This post is a summary of my most recent session of our CRUSH the REBELLION campaign, now in full swing and progressing very well; a brief list of “lessons learned” from playing in this seemingly unique campaign model, as well as a discussion of the new house rules for tactical space combat we used for this operation. I’m sure some readers are eager to take a look at these alternate space combat rules, so here’s the link to the summary page.
The Operation itself consisted of the player characters needing to stop a group of traitors from stealing prototype stealth TIE Fighters and selling them to a nearby pirate fleet. The adventure is further complicated by a Star Destroyer commander with an old grudge against one of the Agents.
We returned to our ongoing campaign after a huge gap in time, about 2 months, as I, the Galaxy Master, took a hiatus to attend to personal matters. Understandably, this lead to quite a bit of initial confusion and a sluggish start to the game as we were all struggling to remember what was going on and just how to even play the game. A big help here was our insistence on an extremely episodic style of campaign with perfectly self-contained episodes. By the time the barebones mechanics of the game came back into our collective memories, the few important plot details were already covered.
SHAKEN, NOT STIRRED
The campaign theme of covertly progressing Secret Agendas, the players clandestinely competing while unable to take any direct actions against each other, has been lending itself more and more to a fantastic cold war-era, spy games feel. We use differently colored poker chips to vote and decide the next upcoming Secret Agenda at the end of every session, and this adds to the James Bond style as well. Covert alliances have formed between players and there is a lot of extremely subtle backstabbing during the games, to the point where the victim is often unsure of who just screwed them over. One of the players’ alliances uses a hidden series of gestures and signals to indicate which Secret Agenda choice they would prefer, with the understanding the players’ in this alliance are always helping each other out. There are also public emails, sent to everyone in the group, with hidden messages embedded in the text. I’ve created a fertile environment for espionage and spy games and I love it.
STRATEGY & TACTICS
Six out of seven total players (including myself) come from an RPG background that heavily emphasizes tactical combat. One of the reasons FFG Star Wars intrigues me so much is how it seems to give concrete rules on the ephemeral, fly by the seat of your pants style of play that I was simply unaccustomed to (at the time) and flat-out not very good at doing. With small ship combat, Silhouette 4 and below, I have found the rules to be a refreshing, Hollywood-style take on combat, a subject usually bogged down with details and minutia. With the behemoth stat blocks of capital ships, however, my group and I wanted to have a system easier to use. In an attempt to do so, I developed a hexagon-based starfield map about 35 hexes on a side, populated by multiple different types of hazards, and tweaked the starship combat rules to be a tactical experience. Overall? It was ok. Good, but not great. The map was too large and the hazards too spread apart. Using my custom made Starship Sheets, the tedious bookkeeping was kept at an acceptable minimal level, except when waves of snubfighters began entering the fray. Some players leaped into the Starship Sheets I provided as handouts and ran their vessel like a seasoned commander, while others weren’t exactly thrilled with having so many more actions to be responsible for and withdrew a bit from the narrative.
If you missed it above, here is the link for the hex-based starship combat rules. I’ve kept this purposefully brief, but I’m sure readers have additional questions about our house rule system. Please ask in the Comments below.
I’ve noticed that the pace of our games are generally:
- 2 hours of dicking around on extraneous tasks
- 1/2 hour of a “normal” pace
- 1/2 hour of frantic, panic-feuled, gonzo actions in a desperate attempt to wrap up the game before time runs out
Is this a good or bad thing? I don’t know, but it’s something I should be aware of when designing an Operation as it’s pretty consistent week to week.
Don’t script or plan out the solutions to the problems you present in the adventure. Avoid thinking to yourself “How many stormtroopers can my group take on?” Instead, try to think about, “How many stormtroopers should there be in the fiction?” Trust in your friends to adjust the scale, scope, and riskiness of their actions to fit the situation given to them. Assume that they will be as creative and come up with a novel solution.
My mantra for the last few sessions has been “awesome, but unfair“. Favor excitement and danger over any sense of fair play or appropriate challenge. Attacking a legion of hybrid mechanized blood guard stormtroopers is absolutely awesome, but an unfair challenge. Sneaking past them, impersonating their commander, or bullshitting through them are totally within the bounds of what the player characters might be able to accomplish. The players will end up in awe of your vivid descriptions and proud of themselves for creatively defeating your seemingly impossible challenge.
The prevalence of certain skills, and hence what characters get the most spotlight time, has been shifting nicely from session to session. This game, Leadership and Piloting seemed to be the real winners. This hasn’t been any kind of purposeful design, but I think simply a result of my trying to provide different styles of Operations, mixing up the various troubles concerning The Emperor and letting the fiction hint at what skills would be more or less appropriate.
When the game slows down, blow something up. It kicks the plot forward one way or another.
When in doubt about a binary decision, have a player roll a Force die and give the worse outcome for Dark Side Points. Even if they fail, they have only themselves to blame. On a result of two dots, make the outcome outrageous and head-spinning. Make it awesome, but also kind of unfair.