My Crush the Rebellion campaign continues on at full blast. This past Sunday, we had an amazingly fun session that had players enraptured and eager to jump into the narrative to describe their cunning plan. Here are my scribbled notes and lessons learned.
I have a reputation as being a very organized Galaxy Master, and that is something I attribute much of my gaming success to. A corollary to that would be; Don’t be lazy!
To help keep our campaign on the players’ minds and also get them psyched up and “in the zone”, I send out a group email two days before each session with an inspirational Imperial image (such as this) as well as keeping an up-to-date Google Calender with all of our known, upcoming gaming session dates. The Google Calender system also automatically sends a reminder the day of the game, with a custom message that I entered describing the Operation that was selected in the previous week, so my players are awoken to this:
The Emperor is concerned about a Rebel military strike, located in the Core Worlds. Your unique talents are called for in this matter, due to the scheming of traitors within. For your efforts, the Emperor will reward you with an additional 5 XP.
This Operation may be able to help our plans, as it will offer an opportunity to advance Political Support or Tech Procurement.
I had some time in between sessions and have been reading up on the principles behind Dungeon World. Looking at another game system is a great way to get fresh, new ideas and inspirations and this was no exception. I particularly like the list of “moves” in the game, and thought that this would be a handy reference to have when applying the effects of players rolling Threat and Despair. You’ll find an abridged list of hard moves in my scrappy notes. Speaking of which, …
I drank a ton of caffeine right at the start of the game and all throughout. Something that I wanted to drive home with this campaign is the idea that, as Agents of the Empire, the threats and challenges that the player characters must face are wild and unpredictable. The Rebellion and other enemies of the Empire may be ill-equipped; but they are smart, determined, and on their home ground. When the shit hits the fan, it does so in a flash of activity, from all sides, and from unexpected places. Look for ways to spring a trap (see T is for it’s a Trap!) on the player characters. The guerrilla fighters of the Rebel Alliance are always two steps ahead of the Empire, and being a little jittery greatly helps me get into that mindset of a constant barrage of ever-changing challenges.
The theme for my GM’ing that night was “let the inspiration flow through you“.
For example, on the short drive to our host’s house I thought to myself, “Hmm, it’d be fun to have X-Wings attack the player characters’ shuttle en route.” This resulted in over an hour of space combat, trickery, and negotiations that was pivotal to finding out the location of the hidden Rebel base and allowed the social skills and players’ planning skills to take a well-deserved spotlight. All this, and I didn’t even have a stat block printed out!
We then moved into deeper roleplaying discussions about each character. I had the idea previously of exploring some of the motivations and personal desires of an Agent of the Empire without describing them as one dimensional, cliched villains. We started that night with a question to all: “Why has The Emperor chosen you? What impressive deed have you done to garner His attention?” The results were more than anything I could have asked for, perhaps partly due to the game starting with some action and getting everyone’s imaginations firing.
In following weeks, we will be delving into how these Agents wish to see the Empire improved (or, what problems of the Empire disappoint them), who was a patron to the Agents to help them in their rise to power, what dark deeds have the Agents done in the name of The Emperor that they now regret, and what enemies and allies the Agents have accumulated during their rise to power.
Many really cool bits of the adventure (ie. an attack with cybernetic, genetically modified beasts) didn’t really see any limelight due to time restrictions. I learned to just roll with it and tuck that idea away for another session where I might again have the chance to show it off.
This campaign has a very strict rule of each Operation must be completed in only one session, which is about 3 hours. This rule was put to the test last Sunday and I’m really happy we stuck with it. The self-imposed time limit on my own game keeps me on y toes and keeps the game from slowing down. Remember, I want the Agents to feel like they are under constant pressure. As a result, with time running out during this past session, we opted for a real quick, 10-minute summary to end the adventure and gloss over the actual attack on the hidden Rebel base. The overall effects of skill checks were scaled out to encompass humongous events instead of individual actions and it worked great. A single computers check to gain access to a Rebel base’s entire network, one Leadership check to command the Stormtroopers assaulting the base, and just one Melee check to defeat the base commander in hand-to-hand combat (which, by the way, failed and resulted in a recurring, deadlier Nemesis for next week).
Lastly, we tested out some further tweaks to the Secret Agenda rules and were very happy with them. An Agent can either roll to advance one of the secret agenda steps presented, aid another Agent and give a Boost, hinder another Agent and give a Setback, or learn a random step in another Agent’s Secret Agenda. A cold war era feeling of spying, broken alliances, and mistrust pervades the end of the sessions, something that I want, while the threat of instant public execution for harming another Agent or failing at an Operation in the face of brutally difficult scenes (“The Emperor is not as forgiving as I am.”) keeps everyone working together like a true team.