About a week ago I took a minor sabbatical and traveled down to Florida. I just needed to get out of Charleston, and get a break from life. While I was down there, I ended up doing some yardwork and housecleaning for some people in need. It was a lot of fun, and I enjoyed doing some manual labor to clear my head.
After we were done, I was hanging out with a bunch of people, and began distractedly perusing the bookshelves. The top shelf was some great sci-fi and fantasy stuff, nothing crazy, but the second shelf…the second shelf was a treasure trove. Full of 2nd Edition Star Wars books, adventures, supplements, expansions, and more. Discworld RPG manuals, GURPS, DnD, other West End Games stuff, and more. I was speechless….and then I saw it, crammed in between two of the Star Wars Adventure books, was this little beauty:
I immediately cracked it open right there, and started to skim it. After a few minutes, my friend offered to let me take a few of the books off the shelf, “if I promised to make good use of them.” Please! This was the stuff of legends! I’ve only been playing TabletopRPGs for about 2 years, but here’s why this book matters:
After Star Wars VI came out in 1983, the huge popularity and success of the games caused a clamoring of fans for more content. West End Games had just finished their successful Ghostbusters RPG, and thought that Star Wars would be ripe for a tabltop RPG to expand the universe. Tons of amazing writers, artists and designers were hired to flesh out the world with enough detail that players could really feel like they were living in it. From Wikipedia
The game, based on WEG’s earlier Ghostbusters RPG, established much of the groundwork of what later became the Star Wars Expanded Universe, and their sourcebooks are still frequently cited by Star Wars fans as reference material. Lucasfilm considered their sourcebooks so authoritative that when Timothy Zahn was hired to write what became the Thrawn trilogy, he was sent a box of West End Games Star Wars books and directed to base his novel on the background material presented within.
The details and adventures laid down in this rpg became THE standard for anything Star Wars outside the Original Trilogy movies. The amount of content produced was insane! “By the end of the game’s run around 140 sourcebook and adventure supplements were published for the game during its run through three editions.” – Wikipedia
Table of Contents
A New Hope
So, finding this little piece of history from a universe as beloved as Star Wars was very exciting. And even better, this is the GM Handbook, which will cover story creation, pacing, how to create unique monsters, write adventures, etc. The intro specifically says that the Corebook discusses the rules, and this book handles creation, with little references to the rules here and there.
Since Numenera is VERY similar to Star Wars; both in its treatment of technology as secondary to story, and with the focus on strange and weird locations, I’m hoping that this book will provide some fantastic insights and improve my GMing technique.
This may turn into a series of posts, but I’ll be slowly making my way through this book, mentioning helpful advice, things that I particularly appreciate, and tumbling around ideas that appeal to me. So, let’s get started:
The book starts with a discussion of how to run starting adventures. Here are the 6 pieces of advice they list in the beginning:
- Come up with a good story idea
- Develop a plot around the idea
- Translate these episodes into Game Terms
- Make final preparations
- Create player characters
- Create and improvised Star Wars movie
I’ll go through each piece of advice, mention some of the things that they recommend, and insert my own comments. Their paraphrased advice will be in quotes, mine will be normal text.
Come up with a Good Story Idea
Try to keep the starting idea simple, especially for the first few adventures.Although most people think of Star Wars has being about epic battles for the fate of the Galaxy, most good stories start off very simple. Later hooks, twists, and turns should be written down, but saved for later. Remember, there are no ‘bad’ plots, some just make better stories than others. You should feel free to use your favorite plots from other stories, or today’s headlines.
This is great advice. I know that its easy for me to get over-whelmed when trying to write out an adventure. I put a lot of pressure on myself to have multiple twists and turns, a surprise ending, shocking revelations, and hidden clues foreshadowing what will come. While that stuff is really great, it’s really hard to do within a tabletop RPG story. It’s easier to start small, and then escalate the scale later.
Develop A Plot Around The Idea
Use the Star Wars movies as a pattern to base your own adventures from; stay close to the pacing and drama of these movies. To get the Star Wars tone correct, try putting your players in familiar locations (Yavin, or Bespin) and have familiar characters drop in or interact with the players in some small way (Han or Leia). Don’t try to plan for everything, see your plans as a sketch of the game, and flesh out the details as you go.
Try following this plot structure to start; dividing your games into episodes. Episode 1 should have very little combat or mechanics, instead focusing on party interaction and setting information. Episode 2 should have some minor action, and a lot of travel or change of scenery. Start the adventure! Episode 3 should have the most action, combat, and conflict. Episodes after that should alternate between these three until the story expands and gets a life of its own. Don’t put too many surprises in the beginning episodes. There should be a clear line between ally and enemy.
Plan out the main and important Locations that characters may visit, but don’t try to cover it all. If the group avoids Mos Eisley, have a good enough understanding of Tatooine that you can quickly come up with some small berg to have for the players to explore. Also, when travelling, skip the boring bits, and jump into the action.
When you GM NPCs, don’t stress out too much about character skills and stats. Just keep things simple. The Gamorrean guard doesn’t need a finely tuned barter ability. In fact, some NPCs may not need to be detailed at all. Don’t be afraid to bring in a minor character without any stats, just to spice up the story and setting.
I don’t really have much to contribute, except to assume that episodes aren’t entire sessions, but different “scenes” within a session. I wouldn’t want to run an entire session focused on combat and conflict. The advice about locations and NPCs is golden, and I do that stuff all the time. Another benefit to systems like Numenera or Dungeon World is that npcs and enemies are very simple to create on the fly, making it a simple matter to throw in extra characters when needed.
To be continued…