I can’t stand playing in a Star Wars RPG.

The problem, as I see it, is there’s two types of players in any Star Wars game. There’s the 80% of players who have seen some or all of the movies, know who the big names are, understand some of the bigger themes and plots, or have heard about the setting, acknowledge that it’s pretty awesome and want to play in it. Then there’s the 20% that ruin it for everyone. Not content with being intimately familiar with the setting, characters, and details, they assume your lack of your familiarity with them is some sort of character failure on your part that must be corrected, balk at breaches to cannon, and get overt thrills simply from their characters being near a touchstone of the series (which isn’t necessarily one that casual fans would even recognize).

The sad part is, that when they’re present, it’s this uncomfortable minority that usually ends up GMing the game. Because they lust for their Star Wars fix more than anyone else in your group, and because no one less obsessed would be able to deliver a game without it being torn to shreds by them, Star Wars is a subject dodged as if the rest of the group had rings of protection +5. When the rest of the group is finally worn down enough to give in and play under Das Ubergeek, the games usually end up featuring a GMPC who is clearly the real spotlight of the game, and relying on the sheer impressiveness of being in the setting itself for most of it’s impact on the players. While this works nominally well if today’s setting is one that casual fans are familiar with, when the GM dumps you on Garflagle, and expects “You’re on Garflagle” to not only suffice for description, but for you to immediately understand what that means about your current goals, because it was the setting of the third series of Jedi:Rebuked novels*, then sighs and rolls their eyes like there’s something wrong with you because you don’t know about the secret catacombs beneath the city that their entire adventure revolved around, there’s a problem.

Let me clarify my position: the Star Wars setting and concept is a good one, and makes an excellent setting for RPGs. It’s not the setting itself, but the way people act about the setting that ruins it to the point that an RPG set in a futuristic space opera centered around the struggles of good vs evil as portrayed by mystic swordsmen  (you know: likeStar Wars?) is a preferable option to a Star Wars RPG. Of course, the phenomenon is in no way exclusive to Star Wars. A lot of established intellectual properties have the exact same problem. I have friends that love the DnD DragonLance setting, and every time they run a game set in it, I’m lost in a giant cloud of Whuh??? because I don’t know anything about the world, characters, or concepts.  I get excited by thoughts of playing in some of these settings, but rarely actually enjoy playing in them as much as I should for precisely this reason.

If you recognize this as a problem effecting your group don’t despair! Star Wars isn’t forever out of reach. Like the majority of problems involving a bunch of grown men sit around a table pretending to be space pilots – Zoooooom!**, the #1 contributor to this problem is poor communication and there’s steps that can be taken to correct the problem no matter what role you play in it.

As a GM, don’t be afraid to run Star Wars if you want to run Star Wars, and don’t let anyone tell you how to run your game. If you want a game that stays as true to the source material as you can, use the Ubergeek in your midst as a tool. Ask him (out of gaming time) for help with source material. He’ll jump through hoops to share his love for all things Star Wars with you. However, be firm that even if you make a mistake, game time is NOT the time to tell you all about it, game time is for playing and having fun, and that means fun for everyone. If you aren’t interested in staying close to the source material, just say so. Tell everyone that you’re playing Star Wars, but that you have no interest in quibbling over minor details, and that they shouldn’t worry about them either. If Das Ubergeek complains, explain that you want to make the game as accessible as possible for everyone so that everyone enjoys it and it lasts longer. Don’t let them bully you into anything. If they’re persistent, you have a final trump card that will shut them down: Don’t play Star Wars. Instead, play a space opera game using the Star Wars rules, but set in a setting of your own design (which is suspiciously similar to the Star Wars setting). By switching settings, you can focus on the parts of the setting that everyone loves (In fact, polling your players to find exactly what parts they like and focusing specifically on those can be a big help anyway, Star Wars is very complex.) while ignoring all the stuff no one likes *cough gungans!* and all the nit picking that might arise.

As a player, your options are more limited. Communicate clearly, but not offensively, what you do and don’t like about the way the game is going. If arguments about the distance between Hoth and Daruda* are taking over half your game session, bring it up. If you were badgered into not buying a blaster pistol for your wookie because you didn’t want to listen to the half-hour rant on how wookies should stay pure to the original vision, bring that up too. You should be able to have fun and play how you want to play. If the rest of the players and/or GM won’t support you, and you’re honestly not having fun, maybe it’s best to sit out the rest of that campaign. No one deserves to sit frustrated, annoyed, and bored because someone else wants their vision of an iconic setting forced on everyone else in the room.

If you’re a fan of Star Wars, and yet your group never plays it, take a good hard look at yourself. Are you the one with the problem? Try asking friends you trust. It’s not a forgone conclusion, so don’t immediately assume it’s you, but be honest with yourself. And if you are the source, remember that relaxing on some of the details from time to time means you get to play more often. Ask a buddy to nudge you every time you get too worked up over something no one else could care less about and the game will go better.  I promise it could be worse.

*As far as I know, that’s all made up.
** Sad how our hobbies can be summed up, isn’t it?  Zooooom! borrowed from Andrew.

About  Matthew J. Neagley

First introduced to RPGs through the DnD Red Box Set in 1990, Matt fights on ongoing battle with GMing ADD, leaving his to-do list littered with the broken wrecks of half-formed campaigns, worlds, characters, settings, and home-brewed systems. Luckily, his wife is also a GM, providing him with time on both sides of the screen.



50 Responses to The Concept of a Star Wars RPG Should Die in a Fire

  1. I was shocked to see your headline as I’m prepping my groups’ first Star Wars campaign. None of us are Star Wars super-fans, so I think we’ll be safe.

    Your point is a good one. Nobody likes a player who is too busy being an “expert” to let the game flow smoothly.

  2. Well, this seems like a classic case of unvoiced assumptions in a game, that the Star Wars ‘uberfan’ expects everyone else to share his or her obsession with the setting over the demands of a game. That happens elsewhere with other genres too (as you note about DL).

    That being said, I played in a Star Wars game run by someone who had encyclopedic knowledge of the SW universe but he knew how to use that information to make the game better, deeper. He did not use it to restrict our options but to give us a full experience of something he loved.

  3. My problem with Star Wars has never been the ubergeek issue, because I was the DM and don’t know all that much about it, and neither do any of my players. We’ve seen the movies, but that’s it…

    The problem I had was that my players, who admittedly half like to play Chaotic Neutral, still generally had a sense of being the “hero” in Dungeons & Dragons. When I put them in Star Wars, though, they all turn into right bastards interested in nothing but mercenary acts of greed and avarice.

    The campaign became very shallow and unenjoyable for me, because they were mostly interested in discovering new races and killing them to gain more power and money :-P I don’t know why, but something about the scifi setting just removed what little heroism they had left for RP.

  4. Walt Ciechanowski

    Great article! I’d considered a lot of these points when I plotted out my own Star Wars campaign two years ago. I set it in the Rebellion era but put it in an autonomous cluster of systems at the edge of the Empire. My players had no problems believing that a handful of interrelated worlds could exist that they’d never heard of before. It allowed me to create a whole new mythology (especially since I knew little outside the six movies and RPG books).

    I’d shared my outline with Martin and he made a post on it back then: http://www.treasuretables.org/2007/07/create-a-campaign-framework-by-filing-off-serial-numbers

    I did end up finishing that campaign and I still rank it as one of my all-time greats (especially since it helped my .300 average :))

  5. Sadly, I agree. I played SW way back when it first came out from WEG at the 10th anniversary of the original movie, and ou group was all 80%ers — and we had a great time. But I’ve never been able to replicate that dynamic, leaving me to pretty much abandon that story as a workable game world.

    I’ll add Star Trek, in all its permutations, as the other side of this coin. I’ve tried to play it since it was under the FASA rules, all the way to Last Unicorn’s go at it 10 years ago…with even worse results. Look, I love Star Trek, and so maybe that makes me one of the 20% crowd…but the world just doesn’t work for RPGs — not without suspending so much of the flavor that makes it what it is.

    So both the “Stars…” should stay off the game table, me thinks. Back to monster hunting for me!

  6. I have a similar problem with Forgotten Realms. It’s a great setting, but you will always have at least one player who has read so many of the novels that your interpretation as a DM falls short of their expectations.

  7. I’ve had the exact same problem with Star Wars rpgs. I’ve got friends who are uber-knowledgable about the universe, but thankfully they aren’t those people who make a game like this bad. They functioned for the Game Master in the exact way you describe above. As a tool to give information about the universe and then let the world change based on the GM’s whims.

    I’ve had the issue more with white-wolf games. A lot of my friends are very very knowledgeable about the old world of darkness and I’m perpetually the newb. So while we’re playing and they’re using all this OOG knowledge to guide their actions, I’m sitting around asking “Wait, what does that mean?” a lot. It’s no big deal and I’m never ostracized for not having memorized all of the THOUSANDS of splat books, but it is a situation that a Game Master needs to be aware of to make sure that everyone is having fun.

  8. @Jonathan Drain

    Amen, my brutha! I tried FR when 3.0 first came out…bought the book, read it, realized it was too huge (and not that compelling to me, either), and that too many people were already chest-deep in it. My group ran our own world until Eberron came out, and since then we’ve stuck mostly with that. I think it’s easier to get in on the ground floor, and I think Eberron is more original, too.

  9. I need to either hit you or your former GM with a claw hammer to the face.

    Star Wars is a great concept. I’m a 20%er, and pretty much know the whole EU like the back of my hand. One major difference though from your article, I don’t suck outrageously as a GM. Someone with intimate knowledge and that sort of authority can easily use that detail to his advantage. I ran for instance, a serenity/tramp freighter sort of game in star wars, with the PCs playing a ragtag band of scum. They engaged in piracy, drug trafficking and prison breaking…the crown moment was when they kidnapped the Star Wars version of “Oprah” in a similar fashion to the bookstore raid from The Boondocks..man, that was spectacular.

    My most successful games have been Star Wars and I’ve been careful to run games and concepts that simply don’t require intimate player knowledge of the setting. Honestly that’s a recipe for disaster in any game.

    I think your article would be best titled, “Don’t play games with people that suck” because obviously that’s your main problem.

    Look at the original source materials. Writers of EU, the guys that make the clone war cartoons, etc all realize they’re catering to a fan base that simply isn’t intimate with universe knowledge. That’s honestly a very small, very rabid percentage of the people entertained by this sort of thing.

    This is who you should cater too. There are ways to write stories so that they are accessible, problem is, you have been playing with fellows who simply don’t do this. Quite frankly I’ve encountered your ‘Star Wars’ problem much more with GMs engrossed in their own made up world where no one actually cared what was going on.

  10. being a huge Star Wars nerd, i take a bit of exception to this. Having a vast knowledge of any setting doesn’t automatically make you the hugest jerk to walk the face of the earth.

    If you use your powers for good it makes the game better.

    There are some settings that don’t ply as well in the RPG scene, regardless of your knowledge (Firefly and Farscape were two of them), though.

  11. Funny thing, I know Matt and an Ubargeek that fits this article to a T. I concur with Matt. Starwars RPG should die a horrible death so the Starwars RPG Ubargeek will just go away. Then after he is gone we should all gather to play a great session of Starwars RPG.

  12. @Knight of Roses – Which is a great example of that sort of person working for the betterment of the group.

    I tend to fall into the uberfan category, but I haven’t let it affect my gaming. Star Wars has a great setting but, as a roleplaying game, that makes it fair game for divergence.

  13. I disagree with the premise that someone who is highly knowledgable with the setting material will be a bad GM that expects the players to have the same level of knowledge. I have played franchise games like Star Wars, Star Trek, etc. where the GM’s vast knowledge made the game better and not worse.

    To me what this article addresses quite well is the problem of when a GM assumes that the players are as interested in the source material as the GM is. I was a huge comic book fan at one time where I was devouring almost every Marvel, DC, and Dark Horse comic and even Image for a time. I ran a great V&V game during that time, and my knowledge of the comics didn’t hurt the game. It improved it as my players actually became interested in some of the characters that they met and started to borrow my comics to learn more about those characters.

    One of the worst games that I ever played in was a homebrew setting where the GM had so much detail in his world that my PC was constantly punished for taking normal actions. Greet a stranger on the road? You should have known that he was wearing the robes of a death monk and that speaking to him was an invitation for him to attack you, for obviously you mock death if you approach it so cheerily. How could I have known that? The GM was more than willing to loan me a box of his poorly written materials to study. Yeah. I left that game.

    And if a player wants to crap all over a GMs campaign because it does not follow the franchise perfectly, well then the player can either take over the game or leave it. Good players assist the GM and help them correct problems. Bad players scream “What? That can’t happen because in episode #45 they introduced the photon sensory imaging receptacle!!!” and the rest of the table just does not care.

  14. I’m glad that this panned out the way it did. Despite the flame-war inducing title (and a big thank you to everyone for not stooping to my sensationalist level), everyone seems to be on the same page: This has the potential to be a problem for ANY established setting, but there are ways to deal with it so you can enjoy your game.

    I’m guessing from the comments, that I also laid on “Experts in a setting = pains” too thick. Yeah. That should be “Experts in a setting CAN BE pains.”

    Also, if it gives everyone a good laugh, I’ve spent my fair share of time as “Das Ubergeek” giving the rest of the group a hard time till I wised up. All it took was a swift kick in the ass.

  15. As a Star Wars geek and GM of Star Wars role playing games, I almost don’t know where to begin. :D

    The central point of Mathew’s argument rings true BUT it applies to every licensed setting ever created. I’ve experienced some of these issues in Forgotten Realms games, Dragonlance games, and especially Star Trek games. I’ve had some experience with this in Star Wars role playing games, but it is certainly probable given the sheer amount of EU out there (most of which I happily ditch).

    But should such a great setting be killed off in a fire, just because there is a small amount of Star Wars geeks that can hinder the fun? NO!

    There is a simple solution. It is the 3,000 year gap between the Knights of the Old Republic video games and the next “canon” spot in the timeline. Considering the argument against Star Wars RPGs given in the OP, this is a good choice of eras because there is no established canon to fuss with. You can take the Star Wars setting and make it your own. This is why I believe Knights of the Old Republic is the best period for play, especially if you want to avoid the “20 percenters” being an issue at all. One can’t argue canon or have fits of nerd rage, if there is no canon to debate.

    Still, tangency campaigns are good fun to. Take Star Wars and do whatever one wants with it. What if X? scenarios are great. Communication is a key factor though. You tell the players from the start that you are starting the game after Revenge of the Sith and that anything can happen. The timeline may or may not unfold the way that the original trilogy did. If the 20 percenters can’t accept that premise then they can go watch the movies or read some of the horrible EU novels that are out there. Why even play a role playing game at all, if the outcome or events are set in canon stone?

    I’d like to think that I don’t use my geek knowledge in a negative way; in fact I hope that my enthusiasm for the setting helps enhance our Star Wars games for all of the players.

  16. Hmm, let’s see. Me as a player missing obscure setting information in an RPG and having characters take the damage from that…

    … in a Star Wars game? nope.
    … in a Star Trek game? nope.
    … in a Forgotten Realms game? nope.
    … in games with some historical elements from Real Earth? nope.
    … oh, yeah, in Greyhawk games, that was it!

    20%ers are everywhere, I think your title is a bit off.

  17. I have to say, I’ve been reading Gnome Stew from the very first post, and this is the first time I’ve felt compelled to post a response to something: That title is over the line.

    Seriously. I spent a year of my life utterly consumed by the development and editing of Saga Edition. I permanently wrecked my health trying to get it done in the time we had allotted (about 6 to 12 months less than usual for a supplement, and this was for a new core rulebook).

    So, after putting that kind of blood and sweat into a project, and seeing people enjoy it and knowing that I will never bring that much happiness to that many people in the rest of my miserable (and probably short) life, it’s a real fucking punch in the face to read a title like that.

    It’s ESPECIALLY bad because your premise is flawed: Star Wars isn’t the problem. Know-it-all dickweed players (or GMs) are. That’s an issue of knowing proper gamer etiquette and being a decent human being. Sure, you briefly touch on other examples (e.g. Dragonlance), but you continue to focus on Star Wars as the almost-exclusive target of your ire. Really, have you ever played in ANY other established setting? Go play Forgotten Realms or Dr. Who or Star Trek or even a real-world historical setting with an ubergeek for that setting: The same thing can come up, and it has NOTHING to do with the specific setting. Hell, play in a modern setting with someone who’s into firearms (NRA, law enforcement, avid hunter, or what have you), and you can get plenty of bitching about what a given weapon can or can’t do. But it ain’t the SUBJECT that does it: It’s that particular guy who decided to be a douchenozzle to everyone else.

    Seriously, what the fuck? Did an Ewok punch you in the taint this morning? Did George Lucas work you over with a strap-on? [Insert requisite prequel joke here.]

    Sorry to come in and shit all over your post — again, I’m a big fan of Gnome Stew — but this just felt like a total slap in the face. In the future, please keep in mind that someone, somewhere, spent an absurd amount of time (at insanely low wages) to make that game. You don’t have to LIKE a particular game, but there’s no reason to be a dick about it. We have feelings, too.

  18. Kurt "Telas" Schneider

    @gmsarli – …and just because you spend an absurd amount of time and effort on something does not mean that it should be welcomed by everyone. Or anyone, for that matter. ;)

    BTW, I like the Saga rulebook; thank you for your blood, sweat, and tears. Y’all made a good game.

    However, I think Matthew’s got it right. Yes, we’ve all seen various flavors of fanboy at work and play, and it’s ugly. But the only place I’ve seen this level of worship is Star Wars.

    I was ten years old when Star Wars came out. The soundtrack was the first album I ever owned, and I played it relentlessly. I had Star Wars sheets, birthday cake, toys, books, posters, magazines, bubblegum, stickers, etc. One of my early D&D games had a lightsaber in it. I’ve got friends in the 501st. Yes, I love Star Wars (at least, the original movies).

    But I don’t play in Star Wars RPGs*, simply because I can’t stand the fanbase. I honestly don’t think the number of Expert Fanboys in Star Wars is as low as 20%… more like a third or even a half. When a gamer regularly finds himself thinking, “Dude, just grow the fuck up, already,” it’s a problem.

    And yes, it is possible to work around this problem, either by setting the campaign elsewhere or elsewhen in the galaxy, or by handwaving “this is not the Star Wars you’re looking for”. But how often do you find yourself having to do or say that every single time in other milieus?

    Seriously, go look at that Wookiepedia site again. There are 65,000 articles on it, and it’s just one of the many fanboy sites out there.

    * I did help to playtest a ruleset that used Star Wars technology and society, simply as a common starting point for diverse players. But the gameplay was far more like Traveller or even Shadowrun.

  19. Dude, take this. You seriously need it.
    http://www.geocities.com/vibestothemax/chill_pill.jpg
    If you’ve really been reading the Gnomes as long as you say, then you should know what it means when they list a post as “Hot Button.”
    Take the article in the vein it was written, as a thought-inspiring bit of advice, and go read it again. Yes, the language is inflammatory. That’s a style choice used on this site a lot. But take a look at what it’s actually SAYING and you’ll see he made the same points you do, only a lot funnier.

  20. By the way, wookiepedia is an excellent resource for the role playing games, fan made or not. You can always ignore what you don’t want to use. It is a “go to” source for information on the setting.

    For the record, as a Star Wars fan and a Star Trek fan, Star Trek fans are the more fickle of the two. Just wait until the new Star Trek movie comes out in May. The wailing and gnashing of teeth will make the grognard nitpicking of the Star Wars prequels look like a fair and balanced review. :D

  21. @GMSARLI

    If it makes you feel any better, I actually debated finding a different title because I knew “die in a fire” would probably offend someone.

    I think you make very good points, but I chose to specifically cite StarWars, not because it’s a bad system or setting but because it’s an exceptionally classic example for the problem in question. It’s not the only setting to suffer the problem. In fact, as other posters point out, no setting, even homebrewed ones, are immune. It’s just the most visible target.

    I actually started writing this article a few weeks back when I was discussing a theoretical game of StarWars in the comments thread of another of our articles, and realized how much FUN to play it sounded. “If StarWars is so much fun?” I wondered, “Why do I hate playing it so damn much?” And this was my answer.

    I wouldn’t apologize for expressing your opinion either. You’re 100% entitled to it, and if I wasn’t prepared to endure a little flaming, I would have found a less loved target to pick on.

    Also, “Did an Ewok punch you in the taint this morning?” That’s too good. That gets the gold star for this comment thread.

  22. I hear ya. I’ve played in those bad Star Wars, Dragonlance, and Forgotten Realms games where the obsessives got cheesed with any canon breaks, and I agree, they ruin a game in a heartbeat.

    But that’s not enough, IMO, to make an entire setting null and void.

    As a GM, I deal with the issue by telling the obsessives to get bent. It helps if you explain that your campaign takes place in an “alternate timeline”; in my last Star Wars RPG game, we did an alternate time line starting at R2-D2 and C-3P0 being shot down right after the opening crawl of the first Star Wars movie (Ep 4 for the obsessives). That basically shot the entire expanded universe canon out the window, and we had quite a fun game with it.

    At the end of the campaign, Obi-wan (then Admiral of the Rebellion) and Vader (then Emperor, having destroyed Palpatine by turning the Death Star on Coruscant) killed each other in an epic battle on the bridge of the Death Star. That battle was actually background to the PCs attempting to rescue one of their number who had fallen to the Dark Side (and was Vader’s apprentice) even as the Rebel fleet was attacking the Death Star (the vulnerability having *eventually* been discovered by the PCs). Once Vader was dead and their friend redeemed (because it was that kind of campaign), the PCs jumped back into their ship and even managed to be the ones who blew up the Death Star — even as they had to deal with Darth Fury, Vader’s *daughter* (Leia, having never been rescued by Luke, who is still a farm boy), who was commanding the Imperial fleet outside the Death Star.

    When the space-dust cleared the Death Star was destroyed, but the Empire still had a significant presence in the galaxy under the iron fist of Darth Fury.

    Our current campaign takes place 20 years later in the midst of a cold war between the Empire and the Republic. One of the other players is GMing, so I get to play in the galaxy I ruined. :)

  23. Flame on!
    The heated traffic to this post is in itself an argument for Matthew’s point. Everyone has Star Wars juice. Love it or hate it, everybody knows about it and has feelings about Luke, Vader, the Force, etc.

    I tend to agree with Matthew’s point based on my latest experience with a “hard” setting game. It was Star Wars. The two player requests that it be set in a time other than the movies were drowned out by shouts of “what’s the point if Darth isn’t around.” Everyone seemed to ignore the idea that no matter how cool the player’s characters might be, no matter how wonderful their adventures, they just were not going to stand up to Luke & Co. No amount of argument could bring home the point that it could seem wrong/silly to some of the players for the party to kill Vader. Or the Emperor. Or Grand Moff Tarkin. Or Boba Fett. Or any of the hundreds of characters from comics, books, movies, toys, Xmas Specials (yes, Virginia, it did sucketh mightily) etc.

    I’ve seen the same issues arrise in a Lord of the Rings game. If you whack a Nazgul, it seems a bit stupid/disappointing/weird. Just running into a Black Rider and surviving a fight with it felt wrong.

    Not to be ignored in either case is the inevitable encounter with iconic heroes – “you see Frodo – Gandalf – Han Solo – Ben Kenobi – etc. For some, this sort of thing is fun and height of entertainment, but it rarely appeals to even half the players at the table.

    Playing in a known world can be tremendously rewarding – simply having all the players on the same imagined page is an achievement. But for me, the key to successfully pulling it off is to avoid all key heroes & villains from the source material. Let the player’s characters be the heroes (or villains) of the story.

    All too often, running into iconic heroes in well known worlds becomes a similar experience to having your ‘heroes’ being saved by the “really cool -insert bitchin’ NPC name here- the barbaric sword-mage druid lord.”

    And nobody wants that, do they?

  24. @gmsarli – You’re obviously passionate about your game (and for the record, I own and dig SAGA Star Wars — strong work!), but I do think you’re mis-reading Matt’s article.

    You’re also skirting the lines with respect to our comment policy — you didn’t quite call Matt a dick, but you came awfully close. This is a warning to reign it in a bit — “First guy banned from Gnome Stew” would be a silly badge to wear when you’re really just passionate about a game you love, no?

    On to the substance:

    Matt focused on Star Wars, from the sound of it, because that’s where he’s had his worst encounters with licensed property-obsessed fuckwits — an experience I’ve shared. And you’re both essentially saying that the real problem is dicks, not the games dicks like to be dicks about.

    But I agree with Matt that there’s something about Star Wars in RPG form that makes people go all squirrely — generally, the same kinds of people who would go all squirrely about any of their other obsessions.

    It’s just that Star Wars is such a geek touchstone, and one so lovingly detailed down to the last inch, that it occupies a unique niche — related to the niche where obsessed fans ruin Forgotten Realms, Dragonlance, Star Trek, or any other licensed property RPG, but different too.

  25. This phenomenon is what ultimately caused me to dump an entire Vampire game many, many years ago. I had come up with a setting using the core rule book, populated my world with various factions and personalities derived from the various “clans” found in the core book, and put together my “pitch” to my gamers to see who would be interested. I got back a lengthy “discussion” from one of my prospective players of how my setting was all wrong, based on the seemingly never-ending series of “clan books” I had chosen to overlook. I tried to plow forward, and the player claimed to be able to play in my setting, but couldn’t seem to help himself from pointing how all the ways in which my setting differed from the “real” setting. Completely sapped my enthusiasm for running the game, and I eventually scrapped the whole thing. It also left a bad taste in my mouth for any “world” in which there were more than a couple of setting-related books.

  26. I have played in exactly the same sort of games you are talking about here. I consider myself a serious fan or at least I used to, but the folks who ran the games towered above me in their SW geekdom.

    On the same token, the games of SW I have run have been loved by the fans and casual players alike. Why? Because I avoid the same foybles your point out here. Describe the worlds. Sure you can name them, but still describe them. Would you avoid describing the bustling streets of Waterdeep? If you players accompany Conan into Zamora, are you going to just glance over how low the place is?

    Great post, though I too have to admit a certain shock at the headline.

    -Eli

  27. @JOHN – I’ve had players like that with Vampire. The one thing that I LOVE about whitewolf though, is that in every single one of their books they have the line saying to feel free and mangle anything to fit the game you are running. Once that setting is in my hands, I’m gonna do whatever I want with it because I’m the one putting the effort into running the game. I’ll definitely make changes when my players say it isn’t fun, but if I’ve layed out a concept that differs from canon in my pitch then I’ll expect no issues if it isn’t perfect to book.

  28. To put some more fuel on the fire…

    The problems you raise are good points for any well established setting but there is one other problem that should be pointed out.

    Setting like Star Wars and Halo have jedi and spartans respectively. Every campaign descision you make must take into account these iconic character types. Make every one a jedi or spartan and you lesson the specialness of such characters. Allow one or two and they overshadow, at the very least storywise, the other characters.

    My suggestion: try the Mass Effect universe. You can get in on the beginning of the setting so you everyone is on a level playing field and none of the races or abilities far outshine the rest. AND you’ll find a universe everybit as rich as the two I mentioned above.

    Good luck and have fun.

  29. I would piss caltrops for a week for a Mass Effect RPG.

  30. “While this works nominally well if today’s setting is one that casual fans are familiar with, when the GM dumps you on Garflagle, and expects “You’re on Garflagle” to not only suffice for description”

    ACK Amen! This is why I have been turned off to many a session of SWRPG.

  31. By way of clarification, let me say that I was *not* trying to call Matt a dick, and my tone obviously was pretty ticked off. Apologies all around to anyone I offended.

    Not that it justifies it, but this came at the end of a particularly wretched weekend, with a car breaking down on Friday night and not being able to pick up my don’t-be-a-dick prescriptions until Monday. So, when I opened my reader to Gnome Stew, I was looking forward to a nice pick-me-up … but noooooooooo. :P

    “…and just because you spend an absurd amount of time and effort on something does not mean that it should be welcomed by everyone. Or anyone, for that matter. ;)

    Also to be clear, I agree wholeheartedly — working hard on the thing isn’t a reason why other people should like it. The point I was trying to make was this: “OK, here’s why I’m about to act like a total dick about this.” :)

    A couple of final points I wanted to add to the discussion:

    1) I — obviously — know a ridiculous amount about Star Wars, and that comes through in my own campaigns. However, I work on the assumption that none of the players have seen anything but the movies. Even then, I don’t assume that they know very much about about the place in question, so I make a point to refresh everyone’s memory: “Bespin is the planet that has Cloud City, from The Empire Strikes Back.” If I want them to know anything else, I will show them myself.

    For example, in a recent game set during the Clone Wars, I had the players leading a clone trooper battalion to capture a secondary objective during the Battle of Muunilinst. Since most of this battle is shown during the first several episodes of the Clone Wars “micro series” from Cartoon Network, I popped in the DVD and showed it to them. (Each episode in that series was something like 4 minutes long, so this didn’t take much time.)

    Which brings me to one of my new favorite game tools: a widescreen TV. I connect it to my laptop as a second monitor so that I can have all my fun stuff open on my desktop while I display videos, picture viewers, or browser windows in the other monitor for the players. Among other things, this allows me to display a lot of information really quickly: Here’s a map of Elrood Sector, this is what a Verpine looks like, etc.

    During the prep for my game, I try to identify items that I’ll need ahead of time so the pictures are ready. Lately, I’ve even made more extensive briefings in PowerPoint, which I usually deliver in-game via a superior officer, ally, or what have you (e.g. Admiral Ackbar’s briefing in Return of the Jedi, or General Dodonna’s in A New Hope).

    Even when the unexpected comes up, though, I can find a picture or a brief summary in a matter of 15 seconds by going to Wookieepedia, which I always keep open on my desktop during the game.

    So, having an ubergeek running the show in a rich and detailed setting can also make the game really GOOD. I’m sorry that you’ve had bad luck with encountering ubergeeks with superiority complexes, but I’ve been dealing with this crowd since the first edition of the West End Games version, and I am absolutely certain that they are not the majority.

    2) Here’s one of the reasons that I think the “Garflagle” example is misinformed: The GM doesn’t have to do all the extra stuff I mentioned above to bring the players up to speed. Instead, the game itself has built-in rules to share background information with the players. Each planet stat block has all the basic physical characteristics up at the top — region, climate, sapient species, etc. — and then it gives the Knowledge DCs to know a particular piece of information. For example, almost anyone might know that Coruscant has a planetwide cityscape and is the capital of the Republic/Empire (DC 10), but even people who live there might not know about the inhabitants and dangers of the lowest levels of the undercity (DC 25).

    Since it’s all read-aloud text that can be fed to the players with very little prep work by the GM, the game tries to make it as quick as possible to get over that “background information” hurdle. Furthermore, it gives the GM a template for how to handle other, more obscure worlds: Even if you don’t have a stat block for “Garflagle,” the GM knows that the players are supposed to make a Knowledge check and that he gives them information based on how well they roll. (More importantly, the players know it, too, and they’re likely to prompt the GM for it if he forgets: “I’d like to make a Knowledge check to see what I know about this place.”)

    Finally, since this mechanic is in place, if you have an ubergeek player who starts to be nuisance, the GM can use this mechanic to put take him down a peg: “I’m sorry, but based on your Knowledge check result, it seems that your character doesn’t know anything about that. Now sit down and shut up.” :)

    3) It occurred to me that we’re talking about the subject too narrowly — it’s not just Star Wars, nor is it any well-developed licensed setting. It’s ANYTHING that someone can know a lot about, and the one thing that someone can hyperspecialize in for any game is the rules themselves.

    Think about it: Rules lawyers are fanboys for game mechanics, and they can make life miserable the same way as what you describe for the setting-specific ubergeeks.

    I might not be using “rules lawyer” 100% correctly here, but to be clear, I don’t mean to include “power gamers” or “min-maxers” or other people who merely KNOW all the rules really well. I’m talking about the guys who have an absolute obsession with “official” rules and mock or ridicule house rules and/or who will get into years-long arguments about stupid minutia on WotC’s D&D Character Optimization boards.

    We all know the type, and I think it’s probably a more common problem than the aforementioned “canon purist.”

    And as with any other geek obsession, it can be constructive (helping less experienced players learn the game) or destructive (lording your superiority over them). The obsession itself isn’t the problem: It’s the attitude.

    I was a moderator on the WotC message boards (WizO_the_Hutt) for seven years. In my experience, you find a LOT more arguments caused by rules lawyers than by canon purists, and this applies to both D&D and Star Wars RPG boards. Admittedly, it’s probably a biased sample, but it’s also the one place you’re likely to encounter both types of problem players.

  32. @GMSARLI

    None taken. :)

    Like several others here, you’ve put forward some great examples of how GMs, can use their expertese to enhance, rather than detract from their games. Thanks!

    I think your point that not only is this not contained to StarWars, but it’s not even contained to obsession with setting is a good point too, though I think branching into other realms of how to deal with jerks who obsess over rules, or other game aspects is probably best split into another article.

    I honestly can’t speak to the proportion of StarWars normal guys vs Star Wars Ubergeeks. I know that there are enough PITAs out there that we’ve seemingly all encountered one, and that that experience has soured a lot of people to the setting (wrongly so) but I also know that it only takes ONE to ruin the experience for an entire gaming circle, so they could still be relatively rare. You’d be a much better judge of that than I, being immersed into the StarWars scene, so I’m happy to take your word for it on the actual proportion.

    I hope that what others have taken away from this article and all the great comments is what I have: That StarWars is a great setting, that it’s the expection, not the rule who ruins the game, and that there are ways of dealing with them, not just dumping the setting.
    Discussing this has made me want to play StarWars for the first time in a long time, and mentioning that in my gaming circle actually netted me an invite to a forming Starwars game, though my schedule didn’t mesh so I had to pass.

    Too bad. I wanted to play a grizzled Ewok Pugilist/Rogue named Tai N’Tunchar

  33. This isn’t a phenomena exclusive to settings like Star Wars. I’ve run into this in an Eberron game. As other folks have stated, it’s not the simple fact that an “uberfan” is running the game, it’s the fact that the person running is incapable of communicating things to the players in any way to allow them to related to the material. If I (the player) don’t know what a sulustan looks like, the GM needs to give me a better description than “you meet a sulustan.”

    The funny thing is, when I saw this article, I expected it to be about a completely different reason SW and similar games are “bad.” In my experience, games based on film or TV come with archetypal baggage in the form of main characters. If you play SW, more often than not someone will play a Luke clone, a Han Solo clone, a Leia clone, etc. It’s almost unavoidable. To me this is an imagination killer.

  34. @Matthew J. Neagley

    Matt, this brings up an interesting discussion. Not only about SW RPG, but about general GM/Player dickery in general. I think it’d be the subject for a GOOD 20 minute interview/debate/discussion/laugh fest.

    Would you be at all interesting in discussing this on a podcast?

    Namely, the Order 66 Podcast, devoted to SW RPG.

    This could be a fun discussion, sir! Email me if you’re interested in wasting 30 min of your life on a Sunday evening in the coming month. ;-)

    GMChris@d20radio.com

  35. Years ago (late 80s) we had a Star Wars game that would make canon nazis scream themselves hoarse. We had fun with our Crazy Pilot and his ship with a brain wired into it. A Renegade Jedi. A Boba Fett Hating bounty hunter (claims boba copied him…). An old sage we could never figure out. And a machine form force wielder that’s always being mistaken for droid. We even caused lots of trouble at Nexus Station. The prototype mobile science arcology that was used as a template for the Death Stars (After deleting the labs, parks, etc, and adding big freaking weapons.). We had fun!

    But I have to agree, the purists and canon nazis tend to wreck any setting/game. “Hyperspace doesn’t have monsters in it.”, “That can’t be Elminster, he’s still trapped for another 2 years and besides, that’s the wrong pipeweed.”, “There’s no city here, you can’t put a city here.”, “Oh, I tell the guardian the secret password from the second novel, chapter 14.”, etc… Yeah, those types suck and trash any game.

  36. I try to appease the canon-minded, including myself, by establishing a fork point. “Here’s where the timeline of this campaign splits off from the canonical one.” If that event shifts the burden of heroism from the movie characters to the PCs, so much the better.

  37. @DarthKrzysztof – The burden of heroism. I like that. That is why I set my games in the post-KOTOR period. If someone is going to save the Republic, it isn’t going to be anyone other than the PCs. The PCs are the iconic characters of our Star Wars games. I wouldn’t have it any other way. But your right, the same thing can be done in tangency stories as well.

  38. Yea that’s it …”the burden of heroism”.

    That is the core problem I have with Star Wars RPG (in fact the current direction of Wizards’ RPGs). I like the idea of an ordinary “Joe spacetrucker” stumbling into a mess much bigger than he knows and working his way out of the problem.
    I like the idea of playing the common man and not the star quarterback.

    Also SWRPG is nice but I think I would much rather play in a generic universe. I find having to play in the SW realm restricts my creativity. Also as a GM, it makes me feel like I have to defer to a player who knows his SW trivia.

    Finally, I hate the Skywalkers. I really do. I hate ‘em.

    If I run SW again. The first thing I would do it have the players take out Anakin, then have fun seeing where the game takes us.

  39. Agreed
    I admit to being one of those GM’s. I was so up on myself that no one else had fun. And… I tried too hard to make everyone else do exactly what I wanted… yup… I have learned to chill out and have a little fun. I was trying to balance a couple peeps who just wanted to be super super heroes, and I wanted the more downtrodden side of the SW universe. Oh well. It’s all about fun now.

  40. The issue here is not the setting, but a kind of fan who tries to GM from the player’s chair. I play with a “mature gamer” group of folks who’ve been SW fans since 70’s – I’ve never had this problem, as a GM, and I kind of think it’s a player management and GM management issue.

    1. I assume that the players have only seen the movies.
    2. The campaign I run puts a reasonable amount of space between the “canonical” events and characters of the movies, and any way to derail them.
    3. I take some reasonable effort with Wookiepedia research to ensure that my additions or flair are either rooted in Wookiepedia, or don’t contradict it. For example, when I needed a droid crime lord, I looked up droids and found a good type for it. I didn’t have a deep background for it – meticulously researched – but I did have a bit of information there in case players pressed farther into its history. This didn’t take any more effort than thinking up new stuff, and helped me out a bit.
    4. I don’t hinge game-changing plots on minutia
    5. I describe the flavor of a locale and any pertinant plot points related to character knowledge from the character’s perspective. I don’t rely much on player background.

  41. Add Jedi and Mon Calamari to Traveller. Lock all the Star Wars RPGs safely in the local libraries where people can read them if they really want … but they’ll just gather dust there.

  42. Came across this blog post in a search of your site and I feel I had to respond to it as I GM a Star Wars RPG. What it looks like is not because it’s Star Wars but bad GMing.

  43. What’s offensive about the title is the lack of a Star Wars reference- i.e. …’Should Be Thrown Into the Death Star’s Trash Compactor.’

    But on a + side, Ewoks have garnered much-needed street cred.

  44. You know what i think works best?

    Don’t let the Übergeek know you’re playing.

  45. That guy – as a GM in a Star Wars Saga con one-shot – was actually my girlfriend’s seccond ever experience with roleplaying, at a con.
    Thank God it wasn’t her first or she might have never wanted to play again, she damn near suffered an anxiety attack after he also tried to explain the ENTIRETY of the d20 engine pre-play, because she wasn’t familiar with it (seriously, all of it).

    And then at the end Darth Vader shows up, and the guy was all, “What, you’re running? You don’t want to face Vader? Guys, this is your chance to face Vader!”

    But nah, we ran.

  46. I’m not necessarily opposed to a star wars rpg, I just wish there was some way to round up all these fanboy reenactors in one game, and let the rest of us enjoy actually role playing in the setting.
    As it ended upp, we rolled with it and tried to work around the GM as much as possible. Not the ideal, but we had the most fun we could and got a story to tell for it.

  47. Fortunately, when I’m in a Star Wars game, I’m usually the DM, or the DM is at least as good with the canon as I am, but the trick (as I see it) is to make sure that A) the DM is an ubergeek and B) the DM remains approachable and willing to accept any and all questions.

    My approach to DMing Star Wars has always been to make sure that I know the setting like the back of my hand AND that the players know they can ask me about anything and get a clear, direct answer. I also try to put my games into the holes that the existing canon doesn’t cover, find places to stick stories. Essentially, I try to make the kind of Star Wars stories you might see in Star Wars Tales, where canon can be stretched a bit to accommodate entertainment. Keep the story personal in scale and people will have fun. Saving the galaxy’s nice and all, but not everyone saves the galaxy. Sometimes you just save a space station. Sometimes you just save a town. Sometimes all you save is yourselves.

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