Retrofit 02 – I am a Pirate, like my father before me

BAYSDo you remember the first time you ever saw Star Wars? Do you remember being introduced to the thoroughly evil and throughly badass Empire, only to be ripped away and dropped off with a boy whose life bores even himself? In more ways than one, this was how I felt when I first started the adaptation from the elite Imperial Green Berets of CRUSH the REBELLION to the freelance bagmen of BLASTER at your SIDE.

But of course, the inspiration for countless Han Solo cosplays didn’t come from the scenes where he’s telling Chewie about how they’re going to finally make enough money to get a slug off their backs. No one bought a Boba Fett action figure because the government chides him like a child (“No disintegrations”). Hell naw. We like Solo because, when he shows up in the trench to save Luke, we understood that his motivations were complex. We like Fett because, when he’s tracking the Falcon to Bespin, we realize that he will use anything at his disposal to get what he wants. This meant that the first thing that needed to be changed for BLASTER at your SIDE was the central tenet of character building in CRUSH the REBELLION: a new S is for Secret Agendas, which I call Contraband Channels.

The concept is fairly basic; you have a small network of contacts and they all need you to perform tasks for them so that they can make your end-game, WAY COOLER thing happen. These new Collection Methods are Acquire Information (Streetwise), Track Movements (Perception), Forge Documents (Knowledge: Underworld), Grunt Work (Brawl), Plant Evidence (Skulduggery), Apply Pressure (Coercion), Traffic Goods (Piloting: space or planet), Recruit (Leadership), Access Area (Stealth), Case Joint (Vigilance), and Research (Education). You have to accomplish all of the first tier of listed Collection Methods for your Contraband Channel before moving on to the second tier and so on. While the skills in CRUSH the REBELLION were chosen because GM Ross wanted to highlight skills that were traditionally underused, I decided to try to spread them across all characteristics for more a more balanced feel.

I’ve tried to expand the scope of agendas as well. Initially, I intended to make the players sign secret morality contracts associated with their Contraband Channels. CLEAN SLATE-ers would be required to avoid publicity, RAT QUEENs would never be allowed to kill Imperial Officers, etc. I scrapped the idea because they were impossible to balance and because it was incredibly un-fun to try and obey the restrictions without giving away the player’s chosen Contraband Channel. Instead, I turned to one of the most fun moments of CRUSH the REBELLION. The final act of the campaign was a short scene in which the winner, Emperor Besk (long may he reign), brought his horrible plan to fruition by killing the sitting Emperor in front of the rest of the group. It was planned out between GM Ross and the player beforehand.

GM Ross says:Yeah sort of. I just told Sean that, as winner of the campaign, he could take control of the story at any point that seemed appropriate to him.

It was a burst of pure, Star Wars joy. That moment was so defining of the campaign that I decided to incorporate Grand Finales into each players paths as the final tier. When a player achieves his agenda, effectively winning the campaign, they get to sit down with me and help plan out the final heist for the whole group. It’s not enough to say “oh, I did all the stuff off-camera and now the thing happens also off-camera. Yay!” The effort needs pay-off, in the thick of the game, and the winner deserves that. This has an added bonus of exposing a whole new facet of gaming to players who fear trying to hold the GM reigns.

Other than those changes, everything is cosmetic. That is not to say, however, that the cosmetics are not incredibly important. The titles and goals were pulled from popular sci-fi, fantasy, and history to cultivate the appropriate flavor. The collection methods are pulled from a lifetime of watching gangster movies. The same framework can be used to create a balanced challenge built around pretty much any theme. If you want your campaign to have more of a mafia flair, just change the “go off on your own” Channels to “become the Godfather” styled ones. If your characters are all Rebel agents or members of the Imperial army, create Channels/Agendas that better respect the character’s dedication to a particular regime. The idea here is less about gaining a new module and more about satisfying the desires of your group, you included.

An incredibly important point to keep in mind is to still allow variety within the theme. Aboard your ship, not everyone will want to be captain. Some will want to shoot for specialized roles, like Chief Engineer or Doctor. Some will lean military and some will lean civilian. Some will want to join the Rebels, some will want to join the Empire, some neither. If every objective is “be the leader” or “get the coolest thing”, some people will have trouble finding anything they can relate to. One way to facilitate that is to create at least two objectives that specifically clash with each other, giving players a clear choice. In Blaster At Your Side, the Contraband Channels RAT KING and REBEL ORCHESTRATOR are effectively opposite, whereas THE MOST TOYS and WITHOUT A TRACE don’t intersect with them at all. Covering the entire board is necessary both to avoid railroading and to open more options for missions and objectives in the future.

Of course, all of the above just barely gets you out of character creation. The next column will discuss something actually impacting gameplay: the changes to weekly missions. This week the crew of the Electric Mayhem has been hired to help a tax collector knock some skulls and get his money.

I’m sure this crew is the best to trust with large sums of cash. I’m positive of it.

RAT KING / QUEEN
  THE MOST TOYS
Inform on the Rebellion to the Empire

Amass a collection of Sith and Jedi artifacts

Tier 1 (Get in with the Rebels): Acquire information, Forge Documents, Research

Tier 1 (Learn the artifacts locations): Research, Acquire Information, Grunt Work
Tier 2 (Position yourself within the ranks): Apply Pressure, Recruit, Plant Evidence Tier 2 (Prep the transport and housing): Grunt Work, Traffic Goods, Forge Documents

Finale: Orchestrate the betrayal

Finale: Simultaneous thefts
BLACK TSAR / TSARINA
  WITHOUT A TRACE
Assemble a smuggling empire and rule over it

Acquire a fortune and disappear

Tier 1 (Assemble your team): Recruit, Acquire Information, Forge Documents

Tier 1 (Prepare a new identity): Forge Documents, Apply Pressure, Plant Evidence
Tier 2 (Secure your networks): Traffic Goods, Grunt Work, Recruit Tier 2 (Prepare the heist): Grunt Work, Research, Case Joint

Finale: Take out rival gangs

Finale: Get rich or die tryin’
THIEF OF MERCY
  SLAVELORD
Funnel tech and supplies to a disadvantaged colony

Enslave an entire alien race

Tier 1 (Establish contact with the colony): Traffic Goods, Access Area, Recruit

Tier 1 (Assemble slaving infrastructure): Recruit, Traffic Goods, Plant Evidence
Tier 2 (Establish a supply line): Traffic Goods, Track Movements, Apply Pressure Tier 2 (Protect yourself economically and politically): Apply Pressure, Forge Documents, Access Area

Finale: Do your best Robin Hood impression

Finale: Bend them to your will
REBEL ORCHESTRATOR
  MASTER BOUNTY HUNTER
Secretly work for the Rebellion

Track and eliminate an impossibly elusive target: a rogue Jedi

Tier 1 (Get in with the Rebels): Acquire Information, Research, Grunt Work

Tier 1 (Locate your prey): Research, Case Joint, Acquire Information
Tier 2 (Plan an attack on the Empire): Case Joint, Access Area, Track Movements Tier 2 (Plan the hit): Track Movements, Access Area, Case Joint

Finale: May the force be with you

Finale: Cross him off your list
DREAD PIRATE
  CLEAN SLATE
Outfit a powerful ship and live out your days marauding and pillaging

Eliminate your criminal record and live an honest life

Tier 1 (Secretly acquire and outfit a powerful warship): Grunt Work, Acquire Information, Recruit

Tier 1 (Create new identity): Access Areas, Forge Documents, Apply Pressure
Tier 2 (Establish your legacy): Plant Evidence, Forge Documents, Traffic Goods Tier 2 (Destroy any record of yourself): Case Joint, Track Movements, Access Areas

Finale: Strike out on your own

Finale: Start over
ONE LAST JOB
   
Steal something so valuable it cannot be expressed in terms of money

Tier 1 (Research the object): Research, Access Areas, Acquire Information

Tier 2 (Plan the heist): Case Joint, Grunt Work, Access Areas

Finale: Make it yours


5 responses to “Retrofit 02 – I am a Pirate, like my father before me

  • Minos

    Maybe it’s because I lack background and experience on this, but I fail to see how you can make this work with a group. During a session, one player achieves tier 1 of Rat King while the others do… what? What would be their motivation to help him if they all have different objectives?
    I ask also because it is currently my main concern with EotE : how do you stick together in terms of roleplay a group of reckless oppotunists who by definition should tend not to trust each other and bail with full pockets at the first occasion?
    (sorry for my english)

    • C. Steven Ross

      It’s a tricky balancing act between performing for the betterment of the group, versus the betterment of yourself and your secret agenda. You need to pay attention to the group’s actions and help each other out, because if you don’t then some external threat will ruin EVERYONE’s ability to complete secret agendas.

      In B.A.Y.S., you stick together to complete the mission to get big money. You need a lot of cash to advance your secret agenda (or whatever Andy calls it), and you are penalized by your patron for failing a mission, so you need to help each other out. The interesting decisions made throughout a game session is how much you’re willing to jeopardize the outcome of a mission in order to sneak off and advance your shady dealings.

      Make sense?

  • Minos

    It does, thank you. I am probably not experienced enough to feel comfortable with such a polysemous storytelling yet but it sure sounds interesting :)
    This blog is a goldmine… I’ll keep digging!

  • Shane-oh

    Amen to “This blog is a goldmine…” Discovered it recently and have used it in our own SW game. Love the ideas of having other agendas. Very story rich!

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