To game-mastering, not the blog (although given the track record of how often this page has been updated, maybe that’s not a bad idea either)
Anyway, the last tabletop game I ran was about 8 months ago. That’s a fairly substantial drought. There hasn’t been any clamoring for a new game either. The last game I ran also had perhaps the finest moment a game master can ever hope for. Rather than attempt to top that moment, why not go out on a high note?
So, that story should probably be told… I’ve written some of the details in this post here but that’s just a general overview of what went on. The full story of Star Wars d20 campaign and the subsequent Fate of the Galaxy would take too long to recap but I can relate the proudest moment with sufficient detail to not be overbearing.
The Star Wars game is definitely the longest game I’ve ever ran and been a part of, starting in late 2010 or early 2011. This is impressive, considering the game itself is pretty terrible. There’s some interesting ideas (Force skills draining vitality and tying some of the more Force abilities to feats) but for a d20 game, it lacks the complexity to solve problems that D&D offers. It also went through a revision and got phased out in favor of SAGA within about 6 years, so the game lacks the depth of the West End Games version.
If there’s trouble conceptualizing this image, think Dragon Ball GT with the terribleness of it replaced with the space fantasy of Spelljammer. Keep Dragon Ball since the player’s home planet was the Earth from Dragon Ball and the entire first arc of the story was to keep The Empire from finding the wish-granting artifacts. Dragon Ball Earth was the result of trying to find a good home planet for the PCs, since single-biome planets are lazy and I wanted something that would resemble a home to the galaxy’s multitude of creatures. Dragon Ball had humans living alongside animal people, so why not use the Earth as a template?
This is all window-dressing for the events of the story, which stayed true to canon (since the galaxy’s a big place and all) until the timeline of Return of the Jedi. While Gary Kurtz’s ideas were never fully implemented, they did influence the story and allow the PCs to take up the role of being the galaxy’s greatest heroes.
“We had an outline and George changed everything in it, “Kurtz said. “Instead of bittersweet and poignant he wanted a euphoric ending with everybody happy. The original idea was that they would recover [the kidnapped] Han Solo in the early part of story and that he would then die in the middle part of the film in a raid on an Imperial base. George then decided he didn’t want any of the principals killed. By that time there were really big toy sales and that was a reason.”
The discussed ending of the film that Kurtz favored presented the rebel forces in tatters, Leia grappling with her new duties as queen and Luke walking off alone “like Clint Eastwood in the spaghetti westerns,” as Kurtz put it.
Kurtz said that ending would have been a more emotionally nuanced finale to an epic adventure than the forest celebration of the Ewoks that essentially ended the trilogy with a teddy-bear luau.
He was especially disdainful of the Lucas idea of a second Death Star, which he felt would be too derivative of the 1977 film. “So we agreed that I should probably leave.”
With Han Solo dead and the other principals (Luke and Leia) slated to live, we need new people to take part in the finale. Enter the PCs: Jedi Master Jace Beleren (fresh off being resurrected with the Dragon Balls after his death at the hands of his Imperial nemesis), General Carmine (elite Rebel commando with powered armor that would make Tony Stark envious), Jedi Knight Carmine (the Carmine family being incredibly numerous, the player having at least 5 unique character sheets at one point) and Crime Lord Spice (the galaxy’s most prominent criminal who’s not in this fight for the revolution but so that his criminal activities can be legitimized in the new galactic order).
Now, a criminal mastermind sticks out in comparison to the other two. However, Spice wasn’t a Hutt (so he doesn’t have some understanding with The Empire) and was the guy who came out of the Jabba power vacuum victorious. I also figured in a galaxy as big as Star Wars, the Rebels wouldn’t be the united good guy front they are in the movies. There’s be people who’d think Mon Mothma’s methods were too tame and they’d need to wage total war against The Empire (as opposed to just hitting military targets). It also makes sense for Imperial propaganda to have any effect, there would need to be some Rebels who give the others a bad name.
Despite his vast resources, Spice was so addicted to his namesake drug that his physical body had withered to the point he needed to be “more machine than man” to survive. The player really wanted nanites, which I ruled would give him vitality point regeneration (since that’s how they work in a d20 modern supplement). The person who built these nanites and implemented them into what was left of Spice’s body was renowned mad scientist Dr. Kochin (the same one who had survived the events of The World’s Strongest).
As a mad scientist, Kochin’s creations had a very strong boom or bust effect. When they worked, they were among the best in the galaxy. If they failed, well, the results would be catastrophic. Kochin had a very good working relationship with the Carmines, having designed the majority of that player’s armament. The power armor, for instance, was capable of flight on par with an X-Wing (so it had a hyperdrive built in) and was the most durable piece of work in the galaxy…unless the player rolled a critical failure, than it would enter a meltdown that would result in either the power source being ejected (rendering the armor unusable and the player stuck until he somehow got out of the armor) or a massive explosion on par with multiple thermal detonators. Despite their knowledge of Kochin, Jace and the Carmines never warned Crime Lord Spice that what he was having integrated into his body might be incredibly dangerous.
At the time, none of them know how dangerous. In fiction, nanotechnology just does whatever the hell the writer wants and how it works isn’t exactly explained (if at all). Now, one of my favorite things about gamemastering is deconstructing and exploring tropes. So, nanotech in Star Wars works kinda like everything else does in that universe: through the will of the Force. Spice’s nanites fed off the Force itself, a pretty sweet deal since the Force is an omnipresent energy field binding all living things in the galaxy together. As with all Kochin creations, there’s a rub: Upon the death of the host body, the nanites continue to replicate. Indefinitely. This leads to the grey goo scenario, where the entire galaxy is consumed by nanites.
Kochin knew about this possible outcome but didn’t share it because he’s a mad scientist who figured the grey goo outcome and extinguishing of all life in the galaxy was preferable to the tyranny of The Empire. Conveniently for him, Spice was a Force user who had neglected his abilities to pursue a life of crime (the final d20 session had the characters at either level 15 or 16 and to get all 10 levels of the Crime Lord prestige class, Spice had to multiclass as a Jedi Consular/Noble). Kochin figured either the Rebels win the day through battle or via Spice triggering a nanite storm upon his death (highly possible considering he was in the same location as some of the most powerful Force users in the galaxy).
So, after the Battle of Kashyyyk when the players learned Kochin’s fleet left suddenly during a point where the fight was in favor of the Imperials, the players were completely baffled. Jace and the Carmines wrote it off as simply Kochin being a wacky, weird mad scientist but Spice treated it as military desertion. Spice would spend the next five years devoting all available resources to finding Dr. Kochin. When Spice located Kochin, he declared martial law over the planet for the time it took to capture him, severely disrupting a Republic diplomatic mission. Kochin was then executed after a show trial.
A drug-addicted crime lord is never entirely sane but the stress of locating Kochin, ruling a criminal empire and pouring resources into the creation of a virtual reality to replace the galaxy everyone lives in eventually wore on the guy. Spice would go into bouts of insanity where he’d “nanite swarm!” where he’d split himself into pieces and reform as a way of finding mental clarity. Of course, this had the side effect of pieces that didn’t reform into the central host creating a separate body…so he’d make copies of himself to explore ideas since he didn’t trust his subordinates.
So, instead of one crime lord with nanotechnology that could end the galaxy, we have a few hundred!
Of course, the Jedi felt the disturbances in the Force (since the nanites literally eat the Force to replicate) and needed some way to rid the galaxy of the Spice threat. Kochin’s old research notes survived in the chassis of his old droid and the real threat to the galaxy was eventually revealed to the Jedi and the New Republic government. All of whom now had to figure out how to handle the Spice issue while Grand Admiral Thrawn is reconquering Imperial space.
Now, there was a few months worth of sessions between the Battle of Kashyyyk and the reveal of Spice’s nanites. So, when the truth was revealed, Jace’s player looked at me and said, “Did you have this planned out several months ago?”
The look on his face afterward was the proudest moment a gamemaster could ever hope for. The look of shock (oh my god, Spice is a bigger threat to the galaxy than Thrawn!), awe (wow, this was all planned out several months and somehow didn’t get fucked up by the players) and appreciation (suddenly a lot of things that have happened in these sessions makes perfect sense)…it’d be incredibly hard to top that moment. It’s probably best to think of this as a retirement in wrestling or music terms (where it’s never really anyone’s final performance until they’ve died) and maybe circumstances change but for right now…I’m satisfied ending on that note.