Star Wars: The Bile Awakens

Star Wars: The Bile Awakens
But Also Awesomeness

So I self-Santa’ed Age of Rebellion and Force and Destiny this year the day after devouring and absolutely loving The Force Awakens. Then I started reading FFG’s rules and was reminded that Star Wars roleplaying is utterly drowned in decades of terrible fanfic. By which I mean the Expanded Universe: all that crap created outside of the movies.

The very worst offender, the place where traditional gamer-brains have completely fucking ruined what is good and wonderful about Star Wars, is the races. The goddamned races. Are you fucking serious with this, people. Every time I open one of these core books and see eight more “playable races,” the first thing I think is D&D and the second thing I think is “these people don’t actually watch the movies at all.” Not once, not once has anyone’s race ever made any narrative difference in a Star Wars movie. It never happens. It is completely irrelevant — that is, until you hit the place where it actually does matter, i.e. the baked-in pro-human specieism of the Empire. It’s pure set dressing, a signal to the audience that the universe is full of some crazy shit. There is no racial essentialism in Star Wars. Just stop.

The second place the gamer fanfic threatens to choke off my ability to love is all the technical detail and deep “history” they slather onto every goddamned thing. Here’s a page of terrible history about this world. Here’s a page of terrible history about the Rebellion. Here’s a list of robot manufacturers. ROBOT MANUFACTURERS. Come on. Jesus.

This is not the stuff that pumps my imagination. It fills holes rather than shows me the holes. It lets my imagination off the hook. 

The good news is, it’s 100% ignorable. And what remains is lab-grade awesome Star Wars.

Age of Rebellion

So, unfortunately, Age of Rebellion is a really weak entry into the line. Frankly it’s just not that easy to make military drama interesting in an RPG: the impulse to defer to endless strung-together fight scenes is pretty overwhelming unless you give the players something else to chew on, a la Night Witches, which is IMO the finest model for interesting military drama roleplaying ever conceived. 

Anyway, Age of Rebellion makes no effort at all to make being a rebel especially faceted or nuanced. The only meaningful mechanical widget they’ve added to the game is an economy called Duty. Unfortunately, Duty is completely busted as written.

So Duty is supposed to go like this: like Obligation in Edge of the Empire, each character has a value that shows how deep they are into the Rebellion. But rather than them owing the Rebellion something, it’s inverted: the more Duty you have, the more the Rebellion will help you out. They’ll also call on your Duty more often as well: you create a little table before each session and roll to see if your Duty is getting called on specifically.

That last part is the first broken thing. If you’re a Rebel, how is it you’re not on duty all the time? I have no idea. I guess you can be pursuing your Motivations (equally undercooked here as in Edge) or whatever. It feels like it’s supposed to take some weight off the GM — hey, let’s see whose job is at the forefront today? — but I’m not persuaded it works all that well.

But the real problem is that your Duty is supposed to be increasing. Once your party’s total Duty hits 100, you earn an Contribution. It’s…kind of a rank of honor in the Rebellion when you’ve made a Contribution, and the Rebellion rewards you with stuff. It also resets your Duty to 0, sending you back on the Duty chase to continue earning/making more Contributions.

The rules never tell you how to earn or pay Duty. No joke. It’s literally never mentioned in the book. And yet it is the main driving economy of the game. What. The. Eff. FFG. There are a few threads here and there, mostly on the official forums, and the answer is “pay as much or as little as you want to calibrate the pace of your campaign.” Holy shit. So I guess I’ll be doing that.

The other weird deal about Age of Rebellion is the spread of classes. Like…you can play a Commander. Of a capital ship. What the hell are you supposed to do as the fucking commander of a capital ship? Hey, you’re an ace pilot, hey you’re a spy, hey you’re an assassin. You guys go have fun down the gravity well while I sit up here and command my capital ship. I cannot wrap my head around how to make that fun or interesting.

Force and Destiny

On the other hand, I feel like Force and Destiny is actually the strongest of the three books. The battle between Light and Dark is the core of Star Wars, and yet it is only here at the bitter end where it finally takes center stage.

The main way F&D addresses the battle is that everyone who is Force-sensitive (either via one of the zillion classes here, or via a Force-sensitive specialization from either of the previous two books) has a new stat called Morality. It’s a … little heavy-handed and arbitrary, but it looks super interesting. Basically your Force-sensitive folks are rolling up Force Points to spend: finally you get to use those weird white d12s with the black/white dots. Assuming you’re not fallen to the Dark Side, you get to spend those white dots as Force Points, no harm no foul. But you can also spend the black dots! And when you do, you earn yourself a Conflict (as well as flip one of the party’s Destiny Points over to Dark). At the end of the session, you roll a d10. If you roll equal or under your total Conflicts for the session, your Morality slips down a bit (and if you roll over, it climbs a bit). Morality starts at 50, dead-center; if you drop to 29 or less, now you’ve fallen to the Dark Side. And your Force Point rules change a bit. If you get it above 70, now you’re a … something. An avatar of Light-side goodness or whatever. 

What I’m not seeing is a direct impact on your behavior for slipping to the Dark Side. I don’t see it mandating douchebaggery. This might actually be a strength. TBH I can’t really eyeball the play dynamic.

You can also earn Conflicts off a table that lays out stuff the Dark Side likes: being mean, killing bystanders, being selfish. You can also earn them “when the GM says,” which, you know, kind of how trad games are, right? I’d have to see if that’s terrible or okay. Oh oh and you can also earn Conflicts by failing Fear rolls, and I gotta say that’s some hot stuff right there. Makes me really want to put the characters into fearful positions.

Kitchen Sink

So I’m planning on running a kitchen sink game: be a scoundrel, or a goody-goody rebel, or a space wizard, whatever. You can also play combinations of those things: you can have both Obligation and Duty! You can be a space wizard who owes the Hutts! Whatever. That’s neat and it feels to me like it should create some interesting tensions. But maybe not, right? Because none of these rules are especially airtight when it comes to actually shaping play at the table. It’s like trad designers either don’t realize that behavior-shaping is a thing, or they’re terrified of indulging it too much because some angry nerd will grab their chest and cry out “role playing not roll playing!” and fall over dead.

The stuff I think I have to leave out or change or whatever just for my sanity, as it relates to how I believe Star Wars actually addresses its themes:

* Race matters not-at-all until you’re dealing with the Empire. Because the Empire is racist and terrible and will enslave you outright if you’re not human. Otherwise, no, you don’t get special snowflake benefits for being a Nautolan (although Whitney Delaglio may rub up against you, just saying that might happen). 

* Strongly consider how better to use that neat Morality system from Force and Destiny, maybe even for non-Force users. Maybe. It feels underused. Or more to the point, it feels like it sets Force-sensitive folks too far apart, like their moral choices matter cosmically in a way that non-sensitives don’t.

* Direct folks away from the difficult specializations in Age of Rebellion. Or give me a reeeeeally good explanation for why your capital ship commander or Senate aristo or whatever is risking getting shot at.

* Mechanize Motivations a little more. I’m thinking it can be as simple as “if you’re pursuing a Motivation, here’s a blue die. If you’re directly opposing your Motivation, here’s a black die. If your Motivation drives play in a new direction, here’s 5 XPs.” Because Motivations are honestly the only like…characterization element of the game.

EDIT! * Technology. My Star Wars fandom dies a little every time I am reminded that “slicers” are a thing in the EU and the games. Dumb. Turning Star Wars tech into something that looks like today’s tech opens up just a huge can of worms. I hate it. I hate the unrelenting push to normalize and standardize and explain everything about what is ultimately a fantasy setting. Once you have slicers then you have the Internet, and then you have hacking and shit, and there’s just no place at all for hackers in a fantasy setting. Can they hack droids? Do droids have wifi? The movies say no, duh, you need a terminal and a plug and you need to be a machine to talk to machines. Slicers, go away.

Sorry for the strong language, everyone. I have strong feels about Star Wars! It’s why I could never really dig into WEG’s stuff; that’s where the shitty fanfic problem started. Down with the EU!

0 thoughts on “Star Wars: The Bile Awakens”

  1. Robert Bohl I’m not seeing any problem re communication! Everyone can talk to everyone in the movies. Unless you’re Imperial, then you can only speak Basic apparently. I take that as an extension of the basic Imperial racism and I’m more than happy to indulge that. 

    Oh I guess if you’re an Ewok, it matters then too. Otherwise communication just never, ever comes up. 

    It does invalidate the existence of C3PO. Whatever. You can still have diplomat robots.

    Oh this reminds me of a whole swath of stuff I wanted to hammer on in the OP. Better do that before it gets reshared.

  2. I’ve never delved deep into any Star Wars games, I’m semi-allergic to franchise games. On the one hand, as a GM, I can say “you step out side the watering hole on Tattoine and a group of Stormtroopers are running towards you” and BOOM! No need for explanation, scene dressing, it’s baked into every nerd’s imagination.

    On the other hand, arguments arise about how a light saber actually works. Like, “I’ma gonna kick yur ass” nerd rage arguments.

    I did play with the Edge of the Empire Beginners Box, as GM, after being a player in the Beta. The BB ignored Obligations entirely. It was not missed, and to be honest, our Beta GM tended to forget about them entirely.

    Morality does sound enticing, but I wonder if Duty and Morality are ignored in their respective BB’s as Obligation was in tEotE:BB; if so, would they be missed?

  3. I found the races had a lot of background information that started shaking some story ideas loose. I agree, however, that race could blend into the background and not have any effect on the stories you tell at all.

    As far as your morality question, maybe you could do it like Call of Cthulhu. When folks meet someone new have them roll morality. If you roll over the morality you have the NPCs react with fear and deference. If you roll under Morality you can have them behave normally. Just a thought.

  4. Clint Shulenski I’m also allergic to fanchise games! But you know what? I think I’ve decided it’s the shitty endless fanfic/EU crap that makes me go anaphylactic. Constant low-level fear of getting nerdsplained that, actually, thus and such species is amphibious so it makes no sense they could pick up this blaster or whatever.

  5. I feel like we’ve had this conversation before. The analysis we came to then: if it’s not in the movies, it can burn. I would include the fanfic clutter flavor text in the rule books.

  6. That paragraph on midichlorians reads, to me, as “some people think this stuff matters, but really, there’s no proof it does. In fact, there’s proof to the contrary. No one has done enough research on these things to figure it out. A bunch of people just believe they matter.”

    Being that Jedi are set up in fiction as a kind of religious group for many characters/factions, this makes midichlorians sound like an unproven teaching/propaganda which could be a convenient way for them to exert control/take little ones from their homes to train.

  7. Joe Greathead yeah, to be fair the text does have a kind of apologist quality to it. But I see the word or the concept itself and I’m all LALALALAICANTHEARYOUNOOOO.

  8. I couldn’t agree with you more on the fanfic. ESPECIALLY the tech stuff. Tech should only exist in Star Wars to the extent that it gets in the way, like you need an Astrodroid to open doors and check codes and stuff; you can transmit data wirelessly, but it can (and will) be jammed or intercepted; doors never work the way you want, so you have to blast the control panel and hope that the bridge controls weren’t in the same place.

    Slicers? Eff off. That’s why we have droids!

  9. I think the problem with races is they said humans are normal and wookies are strong.  But then they wanted an offset for strong wookies and the race stats spun out from there.  All the fluff text is there for people that want it and totally ignoble for those that don’t care so I’m ok with that.  The weakest part of all three games seem to be the ‘story’ stat be it obligation, duty or morality.  The concept of it is fitting to the game but the mechanics behind it are all very lose and largely missing.  Fortunately as most people seem to have figured out they are totally not needed.  

    The morality stat is ambiguous other then you are sliding to the dark side, which I’m fine with it not having any actual mechanics on what that means.  I think it’s better for groups to interpret and play that how they see fit.  I’d rather have that then a check box of things you do at different levels, like when you hit 40 you start kicking puppies.  That reminded me of the path/code concept they introduced in Vampire and the list of do/do nots and it was horrible.

    For me the series is complete with Edge and Force. Rebellion just doesn’t draw my interest at all.  Neither in terms of running a game within that setting or as a player.

  10. .

    WotC had the same issue with their Star Wars books: too much explaining. However, I loved the races book they created for the fluff. The stats could go to hell, but they wrote some great stuff about the aliens from the films, even if they only showed up for a brief moment. Lots of ideas for players and GMs. A system – agnostic book with all that info would be awesome. So many jumping off points.

  11. Chris Groff I’m mostly there with you. 

    I think I look at the stuff that should be the most innovative — Obligation, Duty, Morality — and man I want those things to work. I want it so bad. But I might run into the Rogue Trader problem (also FFG! those monsters!) where my wishing and wishing does not deliver any fishes.

    But fuck, I want those things to work so bad that I’m prepared to hack it ’til it does work. And I’m not super sure how I’m going to go about that. I’m typically a RAW partisan but my undying affection for Star Wars might kick my ass out of that mode. Just this once.

  12. Speaking of races they should have done it with racial groupings.  Instead of each race being different they could have done groupings.   Grouping a lot of cosmetic races all under the same human stat block.  Then a droid group, a small group, a strong group, etc.  That would have served far better for expanding the races without having to come up with new stats every time.

    For me the failing isn’t really that different races have different stats but when a players wants to play a race and changes their minds based on the stats.  Next time I run the game if a player wants to play a given races but doesn’t like the stat spread I’ll let them play human and say they are whatever.

  13. Chris Groff Nope! No races, not ever. Not even droids. I would not have made them playable anyway. They’re slaves and servants and sidekicks.

    If it were up to me, I’d have one of those funny flip books you see for kids sometimes, the ones where you can swap in a different head and torso and legs and feet, or whatever, and end up with some crazy looking whatever. Oh whoa, a fish-headed insect person with sexy human hips. Weird! Hey, here’s a rabbit-eared cyborg head atop a horse body with tentacles. Weird!

    I don’t give a shit if the characters never see another Wookiee in the universe again! There aren’t a few dozen dominant races, there are literally millions of races. And then there’s the Empire, shoving humanity down everyone’s throats.

    Codifying species is my #1 super-hated thing about Star Wars gaming. Nothing anyone can say can move me from this position. Nothing.

  14. I am being super sloppy about the terms “race” and “species” in this thread. Please read me charitably! Hopefully we all know what I’m talking about.

  15. “Let the wookiee win”. Race/species in the star wars movies exists to signal extreme character traits. Chewbacca isn’t just a big, strong guy, he’s a wookiee. Jabba’s not just a fat, slimy guy, he’s a Hutt. The encyclopedic impulse to systematize things doesn’t fit well with that, the Star Wars universe doesn’t operate on “world building” logic.

  16. A racial flip book would be seriously awesome, no argument there.  If we are making a wish list I’d also revamp the careers.  I don’t hate them but I’d much rather just have one large perk web where you can develop as your adventure takes you.  Basically similar to how fallout 4 handles it.  The career paths there do offer enough variation that you can largely pick one you like and adding on multi-careers really does give you a ton of variety but still I’d prefer one large mesh – where you are just your characters. 

    The careers as they are seem like a very legacy (WFRP/40k rpg writers got their mitts involved) thing. They seem like something more developed for NPC generation and less for players.  I think the only value they add is for players to tell GM’s the type of things they want to see.  If you have a player make a tech, make sure you give them ways for tech to solve the problem and not just the dump character for downtime.

  17. I have no real interest in the FFG games, but I am plussing this post hard for the species and tech stuff. WotC once produced a tech catalog for their version of SW, and it was maybe the dumbest thing ever. Like, they had a table of different kinds of blasters. Blasters! Dude, not only are they identical in the movies, their game states were identical as well. WHO CARES? Ugh.

    (Honestly, I have issues with gaming the SW universe at all. SW is the tale of the Skywalker family, and if you’re not one of them, you don’t really matter. Why build a whole campaign around being cannon fodder?)

  18. That’s a fair point and one I had previously subscribed to.  However I am enjoying Edge of the Empire and Force & Destiny for the settings.  They really give you a large area of the Star Wars universe to play in where you never have to touch on canon.  You could also drop the Star Wars aspects and use it as just a good sci-fi junkers setting like Firefly or really many other none hard sci-fi themed games. 

    I said this when EoTE came out and it still applies this is a game very much set in Han Solo’s version of Star Wars.  It’s planet hoping and dealing with pirates and Hutt’s.  It’s not about taking it to the empire and being in the thick of it.  But if you’d rather play more core Star Wars that is where Age of Rebellion comes into play.

  19. Mark Delsing​ to their credit, I do think FFG has done a solid job of unselling me on that idea as well. All three books make a compelling case for the sheer scope of the setting, even within the Rebel Alliance’s activities. I didn’t used to think it would be cool to do much with Star Wars if you weren’t Luke, but I’ve moved off that position with the latest stuff.

  20. Given that in the canonical material we have now, those strong in the Force just pick it up like it’s no thing, the rpg models for it are mostly busted. Ive come to think that the pushing and leaping and mind bending are just tricks you can do. Almost foolish, almost distractions. A bit of fluff.

    The real power of the Force and the Jedi was in foresight. Seeing possible futures and recognizing where and when the minimal amount of influence can cause the maximum amount of benifit. for want of a nail, the shoe was lost, for want of a shoe, the horse was lost… with the Jedi, there’s somebody at hand with a hammer and spare nail… Or somebody teasing it out with a little Jedi trick, to cause the series of losses that eventually lead the Galaxy towards greater peace and harmony.

    So, if the Force is your ally, you pick up the tricks quick, but the wisdom and foresight and the care you need to use the Force safely are what demands training.

    I’d give young force sensitive people a lot of power, a lot of dangerous power.

  21. Great OP Paul Beakley and a great, great thread. I had lunch at the FFG event center and looked at the Jedi Guardian book that is just out. The tech section is a tad boring; the only thing that caught my interest was the Sith Shield – mainly because if I were a Jedi I’d want one of those to scare people shitless.

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