Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Star Wars: Movie Hooks

Well, that little break lasted longer than expected. That's how my self discipline works I suppose. If I give up an inch of my ironclad mental schedule, then my tendency towards laziness will take a mile. Fortunately, my self loathing was really on top of things this time. By the end of my little "vacation" (which caused me to miss all of two posts) I was so frustrated with myself that getting back on top of writing became my only escape from a constant barrage of self recriminations. Go self loathing! About time you started pulling your weight.

As a change of pace, I thought I would end 2011/start 2012 with a week dedicated to my beloved Star Wars D6 RPG by West End Games. As a geek, Star Wars is my specialty, and I have a soft spot for the simple and elegant system designed by West End Games. I've been writing about Pathfinder nonstop for months now, but I've always imagined this project as one which can be more diverse. Pathfinder is my focus, certainly, but there are so many systems and possibilities out there. It would be a shame not to give them some of my attention.

Today it's plot hooks! Every adventure needs a starting point. Something to get the players excited about the game they're playing, and what they're doing in it. It's a springboard for the GM to get the action going. You never have more of the player's attention than you do in the first minute or so of the game, so you've got to make it count. With a Star Wars game, GMs have a unique opportunity to hook their players into a game by intersecting that game with one of the three good films. Unless you've got a game group full of avid Star Wars fans (in which case, I hate you) it's likely that your players are somewhat wary of playing in the Star Wars universe. By giving them a touchstone to something they're familiar with--the films--you help make everyone a little more comfortable and familiar with their surroundings.

Ultimately, how you intersect the films is up to you, but I've arranged these according to the methodology which I feel is most appropriate. The idea is for the players to fit into the background of the films. Perhaps someone with a moment of screentime, or someone who was standing just off camera during a specific scene. These characters can then go on to change the course of the entire saga if they want to, but starting your players out as Obi-Wan Kenobi's 'other jedi apprentices' simply strikes me as awkward and masturbatory. Like bad self-insertion fan fiction.

A New Hope

Death Star Plans: Imperial Players who would like to explore the sophistication and grandeur of Palpatine's New Order can start the game with orders to recover the Death Star plans. Eventually this would intersect with the opening scene of A New Hope, where the Star Destroyer Devestator is giving chase to (and eventually capturing) the rebel blockade runner Tantive IV. When the plans are not found (having been hidden with R2-D2) the Imperial players can continue down to the planet, and continue following the plan's trail. Particularly successful players may be able to capture the plans before they eventually reach the rebels, stopping the destruction of the Death Star. The rebellion would be a great deal weaker after losing the Battle of Yavin, but that wouldn't mean they couldn't still pose a threat for your players to fight against!

If you were so inclined, you could start the quest even earlier, with the players on the planet Danuta following Kyle Katarn's theft of the plans--a classic moment in the Star Wars continuity, and more well known than many other stories from the Expanded Universe (EU).

Death Star Plans: Alliance If your group prefers the more traditional route of playing as rebels, the Death Star plans can still provide impetus for gameplay. In the film, when Darth Vader and the Devestator capture princess Leia and the Tantive IV, the rebellion's leadership has every reason to suspect that they've been compromised. Not only have the Death Star plans been (supposedly) recovered, but an important leader has been identified and captured by the enemy. As much respect as anyone might have for Leia, can they really trust that she wont betray the Yavin IV base when subjected to torture?

So the rebel leadership is faced with two problems. First, they must find a way to counter the Death Star. Such a weapon is too devastating to be ignored, even in the face of massive setbacks. Likely this would mean formulating a new plan to re-acquire the schematics for the station. But after the destruction of Alderaan, they may feel that it is worth the risk to attempt smuggling operatives onto the Death Star itself to destroy it from within. Secondly, the rebellion needs to find a new base, which I'll discuss more below.

New Base: Alliance Regardless of how events transpire, it is highly likely that the Rebellion's Yavin IV base is compromised. Whether it's simply assumed due to Princess Leia's capture, or whether the Empire follows the tracking device planted on the Millennium Falcon, one way or another, the rebels need a new home. Eventually this new home will be Hoth, as seen in Empire Strikes Back. However, GMs could run some very interesting exploration games where the players are rebel scouts, looking for suitable planets for the rebellion to hide on. Hoth is remote, and has the benefit of per-existing structures for the rebels to use, but if players find something better, that could change the course of the saga.

There's a lot of benefit to this hook. First, it presents an opportunity for the players to make a significant contribution to the story immediately. That ability to have a real impact on events is rarely so clearly spelled out, and players like to feel as though the outcome changes based on their actions. That's what we call Player Agency. Second, the possibilities are wide open for the type of adventure you could run. First players need to figure out where to go, which allows them to pick from a number of options. Then the players need to get there, which provides an opportunity for space-based adventure. Once the players arrive, they'll need to scout the area, giving the GM plenty of opportunity to create all manner of conflict. Since the players will want to find a planet with existing facilities for the rebellion to use, you could even use that as an opportunity to include a dungeon delving-esque adventure.

Bounty on Solo: Bounty Hunters Rebels and Imperials are not the only types of characters players enjoy. Thanks to the popularity of characters like Boba Fett, some people view playing as a bounty hunter is the best part of the Star Wars universe. Considering the sizable bounty placed on Han Solo's head by Jabba the Hutt, players may be very interested to hear (or better yet: witness) Solo's cold blooded murder of Greedo in a little tapcaf on Tatoine.

Sand Crawler: Droids I don't have many ideas regarding this, but if you're GMing for a party of droid characters, they could all meet up on the Sand Barge where R2-D2 and C-3PO are reunited.You might even bend the plot of the story a bit by having R2 entrust one of your players with the Death Star plans, and the task of taking them to Obi-Wan Kenobi

The Empire Strikes Back

Hoth Escape: Alliance After the battle of Hoth the rebellion is completely routed. The surprise attack on their hidden base left them scrambling to escape, taking massive losses during one of the most exciting and memorable battles in any of the films. There's a reason this encounter has been repeated ad-nausea in almost every Star Wars video game ever released, and it's a perfect place to jump into the game as Alliance players.

Right off the bat, players are faced with the deadly battle against the invading imperial force. The group could start the game in the trenches, then fall back as the Stormtroopers press further into the base. Or if the players prefer, they could be pilots, zipping about in agile air speeders, trying desperately to figure out how to take down the towering imperial AT-ATs. But Hoth is a losing battle, and any combat is merely to provide cover to allow time for other rebel personnel to load transports and begin the escape. The players who survive (which, given the fatality rates in the Star Wars game, probably won't be all of them) must then escape from the planet themselves. If they're pilots, this can be even more exciting than the battle below. If they're not, then they'll be huddled in the belly of a rebel transport, hoping they don't get blown out of the sky.

Vader's Task: Bounty Hunters A short, but memorable scene in Empire Strikes Back is shortly after the battle of Hoth, when Darth Vader meets with a group of bounty hunters and tasks them with finding the Millennium Falcon. The scene introduces Boba Fett, and includes the now infamous "No disintegration" line. There was actually a whole book about it called "Tales of the Bounty Hunters," which was remarkably good. But I digress. The major problem with this hook, of course, is that most players will already know that Han Solo is on his way to cloud city. None the less, there's some opportunity for a good game here.

Occupy Cloud City: Any During Empire Strikes Back, Cloud City is occupied by the Empire. This becomes particularly problematic at the end of the film when the Empire's occupation becomes permanent. Cloud City is a mining outpost, but it's also a haven for smugglers, gamblers, and manner of riff raff. There are doubtless even some rebels amongst the populace. The frantic escape from Cloud City doesn't give the game much direction, but it's a fun and interesting way to tie your game into the film.

Return of the Jedi

Free At Last: Any Jabba the Hutt was a powerful crime lord. Head of the powerful Desilijic crime family of Hutts, his underworld power was matched only by Prince Xizor of Black Sun. In his Tatooine palace, he had any number of droids, slaves, mercenaries, bounty hunters, and other hangers-on around him at all times. His death would have caused a frantic scramble either to escape from the fallout of a collapsing criminal empire, or to try and claim a piece of that empire.

Players who don't mind playing as villains may even be interested in starting the game earlier, and having an opportunity to prevent Han from being rescued by his friends. Or, if the players wish to start out as slaves, perhaps they help the heroes escape Jabba's sail barge, and follow them to join the rebellion.

Assault on the Death Star: Rebels The most impressive space battle in the entire trilogy, in my most humble opinion, is the fight to destroy the second Death Star at the end of Return of the Jedi. After the fleet jumps in-system, players will need to fight tooth and nail just to survive while the shield remains staunchly in place. And once the shield is down, small craft can dive into the structure of the massive space station, and perhaps join Tycho Celchu on his 'merry chase through the Death Star.'

Assault on the Shield Generator: Rebels If players aren't particularly interested in space combat (and in fairness, it can be tricky to pull off well) then the action on the ground of Endor is another great place to start. Particularly if one of your players wants to be an Ewok. The conflict on the ground is long, and comes in multiple phases, which provides good structure to the adventure. First the characters must use stealth as they avoid Imperial scouts as they make their way to the generator, then they must fight to get in. Once in, it's revealed that the whole thing was a trap, and they must fight against insurmountable odds to accomplish their mission. If the players in the game manage to be more skilled than the characters in the film, then the destruction of the Death Star may even go a great deal more smoothly, perhaps leading to promotions for the PCs, and more dangerous missions in the future!

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