Very often, scenes of compelling drama plays out magically across mediums such as television and books, but fall flat when ported over into a roleplaying game. One time, I ran into a situation in my Star Wars RPG where the scene I wanted; a tense trial to convict a player character’s old Nemesis of her guilt and put her away behind bars for good. This was going to be the capstone for one of the character’s Destinies, the ending to their story of triumph, revenge, and redemption. I knew I couldn’t just muddle through it, that I needed to make this an engaging experience. In the end, according to my group, I succeeded admirably. But how did I make courtroom proceedings, of all goddamn things, fun and interesting?
I started this design by writing out my “mission goals”, tenets that I knew needed to be fulfilled to make this long scene actually be fun.
To begin with, like the entirety of the campaign, this scene needed to be full of meaningful choice. The actions and decisions of the crew needed to have a real and lasting impact on the development of the trial.
Secondly, the scene needed to involve the entire Crew. Though one Crew Member might take the spotlight at any given time, opportunities had to exist at all stages of progress to allow any of the Crew to step in and shine. I didn’t want anyone to feel bored or inept.
Lastly, and this really just highlights my first point, there needed to be clear steps and actions for the players to follow. The game rules that we had played thus far outlined very clearly how to shoot stormtroopers, fly X-Wings, etc. but had no real direction for running a trial. If I wanted this to be a quick scene, I could certainly run it as one or two simple skill checks, but this really deserved to be drawn out in more detail to fit the flow of my story.
To convict a criminal of nefarious deeds in a court of law, the Crew must succeed at at least three of the four major actions listed below. Each of these actions constitutes a short, mini-scene consisting of a few skill checks at most.
Collect Forensic Evidence. Prove that the defendant has committed heinous acts or is in possession of I is for illegal goods. This typically involves a certain amount of espionage, carousing, and minor illegal activities.
Discredit Witness. Introduce an NPC character witness (see N is for Nemesis for random generation) who speaks on behalf of the defendant. The Crew must then research past crimes or other character flaws for which make this witness unreliable.
Persuade Witness. The Crew have a short list of 2 to 5 friendly or neutral NPCs whom they wish to persuade to come forward and speak against the defendant. Each of these witnesses is hesitant to speak up because of the fear of a different problem the Crew could solve; for example, losing one’s job, gaining a bad reputation / public image, or provoking a counter-suit or exposing one’s own criminal activities.
Impassioned Speech. The most straight-forward in terms of mechanics, one of the Crew acts as an attorney and gives an impassioned speech to the judge and/or jury begging for clemency. The character must also succeed at a Charm check, opposed by Cool.