This past Sunday, I completed my first field test and play session of the much talked about Crush the Rebellion campaign for FFG Star Wars. It was an amazing success, a triumph even, with unsolicited positive reactions coming out of every single player. I’ve been writing the guidelines to this type of campaign ad hoc as it has been developing, so everything feels very new and experimental. As such, I wanted to share with you some of the things that went right, at least the ones that I can clearly remember and communicate. Inevitably, I’ll make some stumbling mistakes along the way and share those as well, warnings for what not to do, what to avoid, and how to do better. As always, I look to reader comments to help me hone in on what is confusing and what parts need further detail.
A huge part of my gaming style nowadays is relying on my improvisational skills, and Crush the Rebellion is starting off with no exception. My notes for each session are sparse, providing only a framework of the action and a few important details that are hard to create on the fly, such as names of NPCs. The adventure’s design is discussed more below, however I’ve taken the time of making a PDF of my barebones notes to show what I mean.
Fascism and the workings of a totalitarian state are interesting subjects to me that I wanted to explore a bit with Crush the Rebellion. To help the Agents get into this militaristic attitude, I set about to enhance the local environment as much as possible. I broke out my uncomfortable but imposing tall black boots, wore tight fitting black and olive green clothes, and used aggressive industrial music as my background noise (ala artists such as Combichrist). Another trick I used, something I learned from a previous D&D campaign, was the Ominous Friday Email. Originally intended merely as a reminder email to the players of the upcoming games’ date and time, this has now become a bit of a tradition wherein a email is sent with either a simple message or image. Always, this missive is designed to be imposing and intimidating, asking the players if they are ready to face oblivion, or showing an image of a frozen, desolate landscape. It works flawlessly in elevating the heart rate just a bit and planting a tiny seed of fear in the minds of the players.
Without resorting to cumbersome description, these few tricks went a long way towards fostering an atmosphere of oppression. In fact, the details that were said weren’t very many, but the ideas that I wanted to communicate were done so in a mostly non-spoken way.
In many ways, Crush the Rebellion is the mirrored opposite of an Edge of the Empire campaign. Instead of at the edge, the players are now at the core of the empire. Instead of running away from the law, they are now chasing down those who would shatter the galactic peace. Instead of scraping by for cash, the full funding of 400 quadrillion Imperial citizens is at the players disposal.
One of the key conceits here is that the players have access to nigh infinite wealth. By staying true to this tenet of the campaign, it has forced me to develop interesting new ways to both challenge and reward the players. Knowing that the Agents all have easy access to high-level armor, I keep the weapons and tactics of the combat-focused enemies away from predictable blasters and more into starship combat, computer hacking, and plasma fire bombs. While this has required a level of effort on my part, it has also forced me to re-examine everything I thought I knew about this game system, getting passionately creative, while maintaining the verisimilitude of the narrative. What has come out of the game from just a single session is a better understanding of the limits of money and appreciation of the things that it cannot buy. That no matter how much cash and equipment is on hand, smart gameplay will still prove to be the major determining factor on how well the group performs during the adventure.
Panic & Terror
One of the Empire’s greatest foes and last night’s specific villain is the Rebel Alliance. Often labelled as terrorists, I’ve taken this moniker to the extreme. Everything the Rebel Alliance does it does so with malice and hatred. Fear and panic are their primary weapons, attacking their targets from multiple angles with multiple threats requiring multiple solutions simultaneously in an attempt to panic and overwhelm the player. The Rebels are unorthodox and care not for the rampant destruction of life and property that comes in the wake of their actions. They would rather see the galaxy burn than be ruled by The Emperor. They are also one step ahead of the Empire, and thus our players, choosing the battlefield to best put their enemies in the most vulnerable position.
A bit of a house rule we developed on the spot, Agents who go out of their way and make an actual in-game effort to be unnecessarily cruel to the galaxy’s denizens may flip a Destiny Point back. At the same time, I only used a single Destiny Point against the Agents the entire session, making the handful of Unnecessary Cruelty actions feel like they had a real and lasting benefit.
Deciding the Next Operation
Threats plague the Galactic Empire from all sides, including and especially from within. As such, the Agents in a Crush the Rebellion campaign should always have a wide variety of Operations to choose from. When the team concludes an Operation, they are rewarded, gain experience, make skill checks to advance S is for Secret Agendas, and must then select their next destination from those that have piqued the Emperor’s interest. My method of Operation selection is as follows:
- The Galaxy Master has three (3) Operations at the ready, pre-rolled and given on a handout at the conclusion of an operation.
- Each Agent is handed three poker chip of different colors, each color corresponding to a choice of the next operation.
- The Agents discuss among themselves which operation they think will be the most beneficial or interesting; citing the merits of different rewards, the general interest in different basic problems, the risks in different twists, and ultimately scheming to advance their own S is for Secret Agendas.
- Each Agent holds out a clenched fist into the center of the table. When all are ready, all reveal the colored poker chips held, indicating which operations their character truly approves of.
- The Galaxy Master determines which operation received the most votes, breaking any ties as he or she sees fit, and then fully designs the details of the operation in between gaming sessions.