My big takeaway from last night’s inaugural Edge of the Empire but also the Force game is that character advancement is total dullsville. Literally everyone is already shopping new specializations even though they haven’t even gotten into their chosen specializations. Might be an unrealized expectation of baseline badassery they’re not getting right out of the gate. Dunno, speculating.
Otherwise, nice first session. Unremarkable system-wise. Very starwarzy this time around, and I have the players to thank for that (pick up a sketchy job in a bar, check. Run like hell from terrifying Imperial Force monsters, check). I feel great about cutting computers out of the setting. Felt some grim satisfaction pushing back against “I’m sure in the future they’ll have this gizmo/service/technology” with WELL ACTUALLY it’s a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.
There’s a completely ignorable paragraph in FFG’s Star Wars RPG core books’ “GM tips” chapter that suggests you write up an opening crawl for your game. You know, the thing when a Star Wars movie starts with the episode number and title and some portentious text.
First you’ve got the episode line. I kind of punted on this, came back around after I was done with the rest, and just went with “Session 1.” Easy. But it did get me thinking Lucas-y thoughts about his decision to go with “Episode IV” the first time around. Powerful story-making decision there.
Then you’ve got the title line. Hard, very hard. It was the last thing I did. Needs to be short. I don’t love mine.
Finally you’ve got the meat of the crawl itself. These things don’t write themselves! In fact I was having a hard time remembering how they all read, so I found them in one place:
First off, reviewing them really makes the tones of the prequel trilogy, original trilogy, and TFA stand apart from each other. For me, the structure jumps out strongest in III and IV: it’s downright old-timey.
The first graf of the crawl is the big picture, as if it were introducing a news reel from WWII or something. This is where the first couple episodes’ crawls fail for me. That first sentence, too. Damn. You get just a few words to nail down the Big Picture. Episode III: “War!” Perfect. Episode V: “It is a dark time for the Rebellion.” Perfect. The first sentence of I, II, and VI stand out as exceptionally weak, a bad break in tone. Second sentence of the graf is a little more context, mostly color. Feel sympathy for the heroes because they’re going through some tough stuff.
That second graf is where the movie’s specific setup shapes up. It explains what has happened that has set the story you’re about to see in motion. This is huge! Deceptively difficult to do, too. What just happened that explains what you’re about to see?
That third graf throws you straight into the action. If your first scene doesn’t directly follow on from what that third graf just said, you’re doing it wrong. It even ends in an ellipsis! Always with the ellipsis. It’s not decorative.
I poked at a lot of folks’ efforts to do opening crawls for their Edge of the Empire games and, not surprisingly, they’re uniformly weak. Sometimes they didn’t even notice that it’s always 3 grafs. Or that each graf is, at most, 2 sentences. In fact they’re almost always one sentence.
Setting up a scenario in three (very specifically paced) sentences is way harder than it looks. Give it a try.
* Love the ALL CAPS thing explaining the one important bit of woo-woo in each episode. DEATH STAR. ARMY OF THE REPUBLIC. Abrams hammers at it with three all-cap woo-woos. I think it works both visually and structurally. I definitely prefer the crawls that tell you you’re gonna want to pay attention to this bit.
Anyway, it was a neat exercise and very specific to setting up a pulpy space adventure. Cut through the setup, give the players the bare minimum to understand why they’re in the middle of the action, then start shooting at them.
Man, it’s been too too long. No Star Wars tonight, and I has a sad, but I’d almost forgotten how great this is. I did, however, forget how to win the darned thing. We keep our little score sheets so I went through them after losing, and sure enough, I’ve been good at this game in the past.
I have the Farmers on the Moor stuff in the box, but I think we played it just once or twice. Too much too much, so we just played the basic game again. Plus a bunch of expansion cards because they were shuffled in.
Now I want to just play Agricola exclusively for the next six months.
Down the Rabbit Hole: Prep and Lonely Fun Burning Wheel/Dreamation
I kind of anticipated that I’d need/want to do a little research to prep for my Burning Wheel scenario at Dreamation next month. But holy shit have I fallen down the research rabbit hole.
I feel like I’m in 6th grade again, when I pored over detailed village maps and exploded views of castles while I learn how to D&D. Kind of wish I knew how to leverage that excitement for learning in a more focused way. Like…okay, 750AD in the northern foothills of the Pyrenees, absolutely fascinating place. Total cultural and military clusterfuck, lots of unrevealed history, nothing specific and major happens that year but lots of specific and major things happen leading up to 750AD, very flexible setting. I don’t think I’ll never need to know anything about the year 750AD again after this scenario.
So now I’ve got this early medieval region with lots of neat geography, an apocalyptic series of clashes that have left the place depopulated and crawling with refugees, a trade and cultural crossroad, a frontier really, and it’s so long ago that there are huge swaths of history nobody knows shit about. It feels extravagant and wasteful, too, to have poured so much time into what will be a one-shot. Then again, I don’t know that it’s really a healthy impulse to want to try and turn that research into anything more than fun for friends. Not every brain cycle needs to be rationalized and monetized and justified.
Also: werewolves. You didn’t think the Ummayads rolled over that easy for Charles Martel, did you?
Finally got a chance to play this and it is so cool.
The game is, basically, cooperative Clue. The players are psychics in a haunted house, trying to solve the murder mystery: who, where and how. One of the players is playing the ghost of the victim, and can communicate only through psychic visions. It is completely cooperative, meaning it’s in the ghost’s interest to help as much as possible.
The cards that show the psychic visions are dreamy and surreal and, honestly, quite beautiful. There are tons of them and none of them spell out anything very clearly. It’s on the psychic players to figure out if the ghost wants them to look at shapes, or objects, or colors, or even theme or composition. Reminds me of The Newlywed Game, actually.
There are some time pressures and a tiny bit of secrecy at the end. I really loved the vibe! My favorite bit is how actual personal sensitivity plays into the game: I played the ghost, and my wife consistently keyed into the things I was keying into on those cards better than the other players.
Anyway, I’m iffy on co-op games but this one is really strong.