Retirement?

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?”

“Mhm.”

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.

Dramatic Escalation

Stories are built on a foundation known as “dramatic conflict.” While it can take many forms, drama usually boils down to one of two possibilities. Conflict will either specific to a character or revolve around their response vs. a threat to the world they live in.  Stories will often have both but one will take precedence over the other.  The Star Wars saga has successfully tackled both approaches but has gone to the well containing one option a little too often.

The main plot of the original Star Wars revolves around the Death Star, an Imperial space station with enough firepower to destroy an entire planet. There’s some character conflict present (Luke unsure if he wants to accept his Jedi heritage, Han’s conflict of selfishness v. selflessness) but the movie really revolves around the Death Star. The movie’s climax, for instance, has Luke trusting the Force over his targeting computer and Han choosing to save his friend…actions that result in the Death Star’s destruction. Their character development exists for the sole purpose of wrapping up the main plot.

Now it would be obvious to up the stakes for the sequel. Instead, the genius of The Empire Strikes Back is not that the Imperials have a super-weapon that’s even more super than the Death Star. It’s that the conflict of the story is entirely character-driven. The Imperials find the Rebel base, causing an impromptu evacuation that has the heroes split up. Han and Leia have to evade Darth Vader’s fleet in a piece of junk that doesn’t even have a functioning hyperdrive. The two of them eventually reach Cloud City and it looks like they’ll be safe…

…Instead, Han’s smuggler past catches up with him as his “buddy” has made a deal with The Empire. Han gets frozen in carbonite and turned over to a bounty hunter that’s going to return him to Jabba the Hutt, who put out a bounty on him when Han chose not to repay his outstanding debt. Luke senses his friends in trouble and has to decide between helping them or completing his Jedi training. Luke ignores the advice of his Jedi teachers to go aid his friends. Instead of helping them, he loses his hand and lightsaber in a duel with Vader.

And the best part is that all this dramatic conflict is completely reasonable. The audience has already been introduced to a galaxy dominated by a tyrannical empire. Sure, they can’t blow up planets with impunity but they’ve still got starships, soldiers, droids, vehicles, credits and connections. All of those resources can be used to hunt down a few people of interest, not to mention a rebellion.  They can also be used to set a trap, an incredibly effective one if the person setting it is skilled in the Dark Side of the Force.

Oddly enough, Empire Strikes Back is the only time character-based drama trumps a galactic-wide threat in terms of plot significance.  For a series that prides itself on characters rather than plot, it’s amazing Star Wars doesn’t try character-based conflict more often. It’s not even that difficult to do: Just put them in tough situations and figure out how they’ll prevail (or not). As we’ll see, this method is a lot easier than creating threats on a galactic scale.

The follow-up, Return of the Jedi, centers around a second Death Star although Luke confronting Vader and the Emperor is also significant. However, Jedi suffers from a bad case of copying the original movie too much. Once the heroes free Han Solo from Jabba’s clutches, the only thing any non-Luke character can do is blow up a second Death Star. This Death Star is unfinished but it can now shoot capital ships with little difficulty. Of course, we only find out about that capability a few minutes before Death Star 2.0 is blown up by the Rebels…

For the sake of being thorough, the prequel trilogy has conflicts on a galactic scale (Palpatine engineering a galactic war so he can turn the Republic into an Empire he rules) and on a personal level (Anakin being lured by the dark side). The problem with the prequels, though, is that they are terrible at establishing why the audience should care about any of the drama. We already know the creation of the Empire is destined to happen but aside from our own predisposition towards republicanism, that belief isn’t reinforced in the story. It wouldn’t have been difficult to have a Senator oppose Palpatine and give speeches that reinforce the values of republican democracy.  Sure, there’s people in the Senate who eventually go on to support the Rebellion (Bail Organa, Mon Mothma) but none of these people do anything when Palpatine institutes a galactic empire.  Why not use the political process to drag out his charges against the Jedi?

The character drama fares no better. Anakin’s written as a bad person from the start when he’s deemed “dangerous” by Obi-Wan, the person who will become his future Jedi Master. Obi-Wan made a promise to train Anakin to fulfill Master Qui-Gon’s wishes but he completely fucks it up. The rest of the Jedi are completely oblivious to Palpatine’s plot. Nothing seems to matter because since everything is predestined to happen: No one tries to stop the Empire from rising or Anakin falling to the dark side until it’s too late.

To the prequels’ credit, at least their plots didn’t revolve around a super-weapon. The Force Awakens features another Death Star (Starkiller Base), that’s now the size of a planet (instead of a moon) and can destroy multiple planets in the same star system. Given that the Death Star in each appearance has been getting more powerful, how does the post-Force Awakens universe escalate the threat from here? Destroy multiple star systems at a time? Destroy the entire universe itself?

The Star Wars Fate game I’m currently game-mastering has run into the same problem. While the Imperial Remnant is still a force to be reckoned with in the galaxy, the greater threat involves nanotechnology. Said nanotech was developed by a mad scientist, implanted in a Force-sensitive crime lord whose mentally unstable and can replicate itself by cannibalizing the Force. If left unchecked, this could lead to these “nanites” eliminating all life in the universe. While that’s all pretty threatening, it does raise questions about how to escalate the threat from there. A later campaign revolving around a re-surging Empire to conquer the galaxy would get eyerolls from the players, who would note (correctly) they’re not as dangerous as the nanites.  The only answer to this problem is to make future game sessions revolve around conflicts specific to the player characters.

Hopefully, Disney doesn’t go the route of bigger and better Death Stars when character drama would be much easier to handle. The Force Awakens has a established a new ensemble with enough depth to them that’s worth exploring while raising possibilities for the old Star Wars characters. Who is Rey, how is she so strong with the Force yet so reluctant to embrace it? What will Finn do once he wakes up from his coma and his primary motivation to aiding the Resistance, Rey, is off training to be a Jedi? Kylo Ren seems to have passed Supreme Leader Snoke’s test of resisting the redemption of the light side, what further training will he undergo? Luke has isolated himself from the galaxy, what will he do now that it needs him again and his isolationism resulted in the death of his best friend? With no Republic Senate and the Resistance the only ones who understand the threat of the First Order, does Leia become Queen of the galaxy or assume some other leadership role?

The forecast for Episode VIII is cautiously optimistic. With J.J. Abrams no longer involved, the audience doesn’t have to worry about the same problems that plagued Star Trek Into Darkness (where the film hit too many familiar beats covered in Star Trek 09 and went as far as bringing back Khan). Think of this way: If J.J. had directed Episode VIII, it honestly shouldn’t surprise anyone if he gender-flipped the famous carbon freezing scene (Finn would be watching helpless as Rey gets frozen in carbonite, tells her he loves her before she rolls her eyes and says, “I know”). New director Rian Johnson directed the best episode of Breaking Bad (Ozymandias) and, hopefully, was taking notes from Vince Gilligan about putting characters in the worst possible situation.

State of the Galaxy

Two of the most interesting parts of the new Star Wars movie is what state the galaxy is in (especially compared to the one previously established in the expanded universe) as well as the possible future conflicts.  These two components will be dissected and analyzed across several continuities:  the current Disney Star Wars EU, the former Star Wars EU with the focus being on Timothy Zahn’s Thrawn Trilogy and Fate of the Galaxy (the name of the Star Wars tabletop RPG campaign I’m currently game-mastering with Fate rules).  For the sake of having a focus, only the state of the Star Wars galaxy will be assessed here with future conflicts saved for another day.

Regardless of continuity, the ending to Return of the Jedi wraps up all plot points.  The Emperor is dead, an Imperial super-weapon has been destroyed along with a great deal of resources and all character arcs are concluded.  The Rebels even throw a luau on Endor to celebrate and the audience leaves with the impression of a happy ending.  All continuities state Endor was the turning point in the galactic civil war, a point that would culminate in the Rebels emerging victorious and establishing a new republic.  Where they differ is in execution.

The Thrawn Trilogy takes place five years after the Battle of Endor.  The Rebels have formed the New Republic, established the capital on Coruscant and pushed the Imperials to a mere quadrant of the galaxy.  It’s established that the Imperial war machine is reliant on raw recruits and they don’t have the resources to match the New Republic in terms of capital ships.  What’s left of The Empire is on the defensive and there’s a sense the real fight is over.

However, the Imperials being relegated to the fringes of space doesn’t mean all is well within the galaxy.  One of Han Solo’s main responsibilities in the books is trying to recruit smugglers like him to sign on for honest work with the New Republic.  The galactic civil war really upset the economy, so the Republic needs men and ships so they can jump-start interstellar trade.  I’m no economist but a healthy economy should generate opportunity and money for all involved, so the fact the New Republic’s economy is lacking suggests the Zahn EU galaxy isn’t the greatest place to live.

There’s also in-fighting among the Republic factions.  One of the Republic council members, Borsk Fey’yla, is nothing more than a political opportunist.  Borsk and his group of Bothans do good work but only because they expect substantial influence in Mon Mothma’s New Republic government.  This manner of behavior rubs individuals like Admiral Ackbar, a Mon Calamari who prefers to be more open and direct in his dealings and opinions, the wrong way.  Even Mon Mothma, who is holding this alliance together, has her own biases like refusing to ally with a political rival until she has no choice.  Such a political rival includes Garm Bel Iblis, who feared Mon Mothma would establish a dictatorship not unlike Palpatine’s and stockpiled resources to lead a counter-revolution.

All of this, of course, pales in comparison to the main plot of the books:  An Imperial Grand Admiral (Thrawn) returns to known space, seizing command of the Imperial Remnant and taking the fight to the New Republic.  All Thrawn has to work with is an Imperial military full of raw recruits, one of the Emperor’s storehouses that allows him to create a clone army as well as his own tactical and strategic abilities.

The Thrawn Trilogy is impressive because of how well it handles the Imperial resurgence and how they can give our heroes problems again.  It’s also really easy to see Thrawn’s viewpoint and how different leadership can be under him vs. Sith Lords like Palpatine and Vader who have infinite resources at their disposal.  Because the Thrawn books are so great, the Fate of the Galaxy campaign kept most of their themes intact.

No plot survives contact with player characters, though, so Fate of the Galaxy isn’t an exact copy of The Thrawn Trilogy.  Notably, Fate diverged fairly significantly from Return of the Jedi with a more somber ending based on the suggestions of Gary Kurtz (who had significant input on the original two movies).  Such suggestions include Han Solo being dead, Leia becoming ruler of the galaxy and finding the task incredibly stressful.  Luke goes off into the sunset unsure of what to do with himself in a brave new world.  This moves established characters out of the picture and allows player characters to put their influence on the world.

Non-Kurtz input replaced the Death Star II with Elysium:  A re-initalization program that could purge an entire planet of life forms and repopulate them according to a select genetic archetype (it’s ultimately the end goal of the antagonist in Mega Man Legends 1 and 2).  After the Rebels destroyed the weapon above Kashyyyk, the Emperor’s death created a power vacuum among the Imperial Moffs that ruled each galactic sector.  Some surrendered to the Rebels and the results of that coalition that would lead to the New Republic.  Others would carve out niches in space and style themselves with fancy titles and basically become Emperor themselves.  These people would lead Imperial Remnant forces that would trouble the New Republic for years to come.

The players themselves would make their own destinies.  Jace Beleren (yes, the same name as the Magic character) would be the one to reform the Jedi Order instead of Luke.  The Crime Lord Spice would fill the position of power left by Jabba the Hutt. While the Crime Lord had his own objectives to pursue, he would have considerable influence over the New Republic government since he could make his enterprises completely legitimate (negating the need for the Republic to convince smugglers, since the majority of them work for him).  He would also oversee a gradual transition between an Imperial command economy and the Republic’s more laissez-faire capitalist-oriented model.  Various members of another player’s family would hold high positions in the galaxy, from Jedi Knight to Commander of the Republic Defense Fleet.

Despite their varied backgrounds, all players agreed on a decentralized government.  All agreed that a centralized government with a powerful military would result in the same tyranny that created The Empire.  They abolished forced conscription of a planet’s populace and empowered local systems at the expense of sector governors and the Senate.  Star Wars is rife with historical references so an Articles of Confederation-style government being established after a tyrannical one wasn’t out of the question but there were consequences to this decision.

Interestingly enough, The Force Awakens operates under a similar idea.  While the movie takes place 30 years after Return of the Jedi, the novel Aftermath takes place only 2 years afterwards and in the same continuity.  According to the book, Chancellor Mon Mothma is considering cutting the Republic’s military presence by 90% once an end to the civil war can be confirmed.  The film reveals that definitely happened, with Leia Organa Solo spearheading the Resistance which only has newer-model X-Wings to play around with.  Compare this to the situation in A New Hope, where the Rebels at least had Y-Wing bombers to complement the X-Wings.  The Rebel Fleet is even more robust in Return of the Jedi with the addition of A-Wings and B-Wings.

It was actually pretty neat to see the idea of a demilitarized Republic play out on the big screen after being tested in our game group.  It was neater still to see that our group handled it better than the movie!  In Fate of the Galaxy, our players still had to contend with Imperial holdouts.  They also realized having no standing army would be incredibly dumb from a diplomatic standpoint (can’t argue from a position of strength without, you know, strength).  In The Force Awakens, this mistake goes uncorrected for nearly three decades and results in the death of the entire star system of the Republic’s capital planet!

There is so much either wrong or unclear with the New Republic’s post-war approach, with the most obvious being why the Resistance is even called the Resistance.  True to the name, resistance groups are underground operations that resist some sort of higher power (usually some foreign invader, the French Resistance probably being the most famous).  This moniker would have worked 30 years ago when The Empire dominated the galaxy but now it’s less appropriate.

An even bigger offense than the name itself is why the Resistance is a paramilitary arm of the Republic.  There is no reason why the Resistance shouldn’t just be the New Republic military!  For why this is completely insane, picture the following scenario:  A Resistance operative is caught following their discovery in an attempt to impede a First Order/Imperial plot.  The opening title crawl explicitly states the Resistance has Republic support.  How would the First Order retaliate, especially if they have a weapon that can destroy an entire star system:  Hit the Resistance (wherever their main base may be) and watch the New Republic either back off or just fund another group…or attack the New Republic, sending a decisive message through supreme show of strength that possibly eliminates them outright or galvanizes them into action?  The latter option is particularly attractive if the Republic is stupid enough to have all its political leadership in one convenient spot!

Speaking of Starkiller Base, how the Republic allowed the First Order to get so well-equipped is another damn good mystery.  The idea that the First Order can develop a more powerful Death Star without the Republic’s knowledge has no good implications.  Either the Republic underestimated the First Order’s capabilities (dangerous, since this is the remnant of a group that built two Death Stars already, blew up a planet and imposed galaxy-wide tyranny through fear) or it’s an incredible intelligence failure (do they not have people investigating or are the reports being ignored?).

This isn’t to say the Resistance is completely worthless.  All of their actions against the First Order end up succeeding, either because of writer fiat The Force or possessing better talent (pretty sure Poe Dameron eliminated an entire TIE Fighter squadron by himself at Takodana).  The problem, like it was 30 years ago, is resources.  Starkiller Base was well-fortified and while it was lost, it’s a certainty that Supreme Leader Snoke’s base of operations is just as strong.  Conversely, when the Resistance shows up at Takodana, it looks like that’s all the Republic has to offer.

The Republic military mess could be tied to the political one it created.  The star system that is destroyed by Starkiller Base contains a planet that looks like Coruscant but isn’t.  That planet is called Hosnian Prime.  The Visual Dictionary to The Force Awakens reveals another interesting tidbit:  the Republic capital planet changes via election every so often.  There is some logic to the decision, what with Coruscant being the seat of the Old Republic and eventually corrupted enough to oversee the formation of The Empire.  However, constantly changing the government capital would lead to less stability in the long run.  Imagine if the American capital changed every 10 years:  All the bureaucratic agencies and the records they keep would have to be moved.  Instead of using that time to relocate, they could be addressing issues or doing work or hell, doing something (anything) that’s more productive!

It’ll be interesting to see how the repercussions of all this show up in the next few movies.  The First Order looks to still be a formidable force despite the loss of Starkiller Base.  The Resistance did find Luke Skywalker but there’s a giant power vacuum in the Republic now that an entire planet containing the Senate was destroyed.  Who or what fills that gap in leadership and when someone/something steps forward, who challenges them (either because they don’t trust them or don’t want to follow them)?  If the Resistance steps in that role, why didn’t they just do that 30 years ago!?

In essence, the galaxy in The Force Awakens is a complete mess.  It might be a bit unfair to compare The Force Awakens to the post-Jedi world established in The Thrawn Trilogy or even a personal Star Wars tabletop RPG, what with the movie taking place 30 years after Jedi whereas the other continuities only have to worry about 5 years.  That said, how much time has elapsed has no bearing on making a galaxy with some sense behind it.  The Force Awakens’ set-up is needlessly complicated.  The only backstory they needed was the Republic was still fighting Imperial remnants, which is entirely plausible with the galaxy being such a big place.

Fate: Rock Concert From the Center of the Earth

As awesome as Dungeons and Dragons can be, finding enough players for a session can be a real hassle.  Optimally, a game master would be able to obtain three players (at least) on a consistent basis.  This is a lot harder than it sounds…so an alternative must be sought.  And so an alternative was found:  Evil Hat’s Fate Core.  It only needs two players and encourages a more collaborative co-operation among players and the game master.  Ideally, every game system encourages the latter but Fate is unique in how easy the game is to pick up and play.

WORLD-BUILDING

The first step with any game of Fate is world-building.  Players and the GM have to figure out what sort of game they’re playing, what the world’s like and flesh it out a bit.  Along with character creation, this can be time consuming but not necessarily.  If everyone wishes to play a zombie apocalypse game based off the Walking Dead setting, all the world-building work has been taken care of.

The advantage Fate has over, say, D&D is how much of a collaborative exercise it is.  With D&D, players have to worry about roles and the stamp they leave upon the world can be very limited (doubly so if this is an established setting like Forgotten Realms or Eberron).  Fate, by design, encourages ingenuity and the player-generated input encourages them to feel involved and attached to something they had a hand in creating.

Our world-building exercise took only a few minutes.  What they came up with was a science-fantasy post-apocalypse setting.  It’s been 200 years since the Earth blew up but the planet was not totally destroyed.  Somehow, the remaining bits of the Earth now float together in harmony (think an asteroid belt).  These “planetoids” now house human settlers who mine for minerals and, on a few, scavenge what ruins still exist.

Our players mine the innards of their home planetoid with space rednecks.  Space Foreman Brannigan is their boss, who overworks them as much as he can (for reasons to be revealed in character creation).  Space Town is under the governing jurisdiction of Space Mayor Calrissian.  The only contact each planetoid has with another is through the Chinese space traders, who are the only legal source of galactic trade between what remains of the earth and the settler’s homelands.

THE SCENE

Players being space miners can be interesting (in a sort of classic D&D dungeon crawl kind of way) but they need some sort of conflict.  The group generates their own conflict(s) with Fate Accelerated’s two easy questions:  (1) What’s the bad guy’s plan and (2) what’s an issue the players can’t ignore?  Our players decided Biff Tannen’s gang of space rednecks were going to to take over Space Town and the issue they couldn’t ignore was that none of the earth’s planetoids had a breathable atmosphere.  This latter point requires everyone to wear a space suit.

CHARACTERS

Character creation in Fate is less about assigning numerical values to attributes/skills and more about what characteristics they have that make the story flow  Each character comes up with a name, appearance, purpose, a trouble that complicates their life and some traits that make that person unique.  What we ended up with is our three players deciding they were a band, people who played music to escape the drudgery of working in the mines.  The authority figures within Space Town disapprove of their dubstep rock band and devise means to keep them from playing as much as possible.  The band’s name?  With The.  It’s a genius marketing ploy.

This was a one-shot session so I don’t have the character sheets they made, so what the players came up with is solely off memory.  The only things about Nick’s character I remember was that he had an unreliable iron lung (which allowed him to breathe without a space suit but it would act up and give him coughing fits most of the time), that he had an incredibly long name that included Level 70 Bard and his musical instrument was a double-necked guitar that could play both bass and lead guitar parts.  Steve’s character’s entire purpose was to use his dubstep gun (which doubled as his instrument) to bring dubstep rock to the rest of the galaxy.  The only thing preventing him from doing so was his rampant alcoholism.  Dustin was the vocalist extremely loyal to the band and his complication was his OCD.

JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH

To start, our players decided to neglect the threat Biff’s space gang posed to Space Town and decided to address the earth’s lacking atmosphere.  Chinese space traders contracted them with a mission to use their band’s awesome music (they had heard a demo tape) to restore the earth’s atmosphere…through the power of rock!  The band agreed but lacked the proper tools to do such a thing (mainly amps large enough to propagate sound on a planetary scale).  So they decide to journey through the remnants of the earth to find a ruined record store.  From there, they could scavenge some amp parts and/or use Dustin’s ingenuity to construct new ones.

After a bit of searching (and a misadventure in trying to pilot their ship through the asteroid thicket), the band finds a ruined record store that’s currently being picked over by Biff’s space redneck gang.  The players actually get Biff to leave without beating the crap out of them, although Biff swears to get even with the party at some point.  They pick through the store, searching for amps (or parts to them) that they could use…and come up with only broken ones.  Some time is spent by Dustin jury-rigging some new amps while Nick and Steve decide where to hold this epic rock concert that will restore the earth’s atmosphere.

The players decide that the center of the earth would be the best place to rock out.  They journey there, using Steve’s dubstep gun to maneuver through the planetoids.  Once at their destination, they begin to set-up the stage and perform sound checks.  Much of the next few minutes are the band member’s personalities clashing with each other (Nick and Steve are very forceful, flashy brutes…whereas Dustin’s a more careful and clever sort).  Eventually, the time comes for the concert but our band has no audience!  Steve’s dubstep gun is used to send the concert fliers (which are written on bills of money they obtained from Chinese space traders as advance payment) to all populated planetoids in order to attract a crowd worthy of what is to be an epic performance.

An audience gathers and the band is set to perform!  Nick leads off with his trademark guitar solo…but all the smoke from the pyrotechnics (and the people in the crowd) causes his iron lung to act up!  Dustin and Steve cover up Nick’s shaky performance, with Dustin invoking his loyalty aspect to aid Nick’s playing.  Nick works through his iron lung complication and the band puts on the finest rock concert the earth’s seen in 200 years.

Unfortunately, trouble shows up in the form of Biff Tannen’s space redneck gang!  Having conquered Space Town, he has turned the planetoid the town rests upon into his own personal transportation.  He sends Space Foreman Brannigan and some henchmen to arrest the PCs for neglecting their mining duties.  Steve’s dubstep gun blows them all off the stage.

Biff sees how this showdown is going to have to be:  a musical duel between two bands of opposing types!  On one hand, we have our heroes, the dubstep rock band With The.  Opposing them is Biff’s space redneck bluegrass band (since bluegrass was determined to be the opposite of dubstep rock).  What followed was a series of one vs. one instrumental duels, a vocalist challenge and each band trying to interrupt the other’s playing when Biff’s band started to sense they were going to lose…all with the restoration of the earth’s atmosphere in the balance!  Biff’s band consisted of violent rednecks not well-suited to a musical challenge…and the band With The trounces them with only minor difficulty (mainly Steve having to take a break to get a beer when he should have been playing dubstep and having Dustin cover for him).

Biff Tannen’s space gang and Space Town meet the same fate as Space Foreman Brannigan:  Being blasted off into space by Steve’s dubstep gun!  This caps off an epic concert that sees the earth’s atmosphere fully restored!  People at the concert take off their space suits and are able to breathe the same air their ancestors did over 200 years ago!  People everywhere else wonder if their space suits are malfunctioning…until they hear news of the concert and then realize those suits were telling the truth!

When our heroes aren’t being mobbed by their new legion of fans, they take time off to do the little things they enjoy.  Like, growing wheat (Steve), signing the midriffs of female fans (Nick) and working on the next album (Dustin).  They rest easy, unaware of the dangers that await them in future adventures.  Biff Tannen and his space redneck gang are still out there, plotting their revenge.  The musical style that restored the earth’s atmosphere will bring many pretenders and challengers to the band.  And that’s nothing to say of the other challenges that lay out in the vast unknown of space…but our players were fine with this being a one-off session so we’ll say they lived happily ever after!