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The Concept of a Star Wars RPG Should Die in a Fire
Posted By Matthew J. Neagley On March 16, 2009 @ 1:23 am In Hot Buttons | 50 Comments
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.
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