Last Wednesday (4/22) night, I went to hang out with my friend Braulio (whom some may have heard in the recent Kobe, Japan episode of The Gamer Traveler Podcast) at a local game store. That night he would be running his ongoing Star Wars RPG game and the idea was for me to go and play an NPC for the night, just to have some fun and have a chance to clear my head after many days spent in the hospital with Mom.
We got there around 6 pm, because the group had agreed to try to start earlier than the usual 8 pm starting time. While we waited, we played the Star Wars Miniatures Game, my first time playing it (I played the Rebellion and I lost). During the course of the game, two of his players arrived, and then they played a round of the minis game. By 9:30 pm it was clear that the other two players we were expecting were not going to arrive, so instead of not roleplaying at all, I suggested, “Hey, we can play Primetime Adventures!”
I gave Braulio my copy of PTA when I came to PR in Feb, so he had already read the book and was itching to play it. Mind you, we didn’t have the book with us, so we’d be going based on my play experience and what Braulio could remember. I explained the premise of PTA to one of the players and he was enthused, but the other one wasn’t too keen (he associated my mention of “story/narrative-driven” with Vampire/World of Darkness, and he apparently had some bad experiences with some WoD players once). I told him, let’s do the pitch session; if we’re not all fully into it, invested into the idea, we don’t play. He agreed to that.
Since we were on a Star Wars mindset already due to their regular game and the minis game we all played, I had the idea of pitching the same setting I’ve played for the last two years at Gen Con (and which I hope to be able to continue later this year): Star Wars Episode LV (55). Basically, it’s a thousand years after Return of the Jedi, a time when House Skywalker has become Sith and established itself as rulers over the galaxy, where Coruscant is orbited by six Death Stars, when there are the stirrings of a new Rebellion to bring down the Skywalkers once and for all. They bought in, adding they wanted to play characters that were, instead of members of the fledgling Rebellion, part of the Sith side, and explore themes of vengeance and redemption.
We changed otherthings as well. We named the new hegemony the Sith Republic, and the players were soldiers of the Sith Army, Jedi Hunters to be precise, all of them fully trained in the ways of the Dark Side of the Force. They became a Sith Triumvirate, answering directly to Lord and Lady Vader (a reborn/returned(?) Luke and Leia Skywalker). The Triumvirate consists of an Archivist, Lord Dranik Weir, who believes that knowledge is power, and whose issue involves finding what, if any, is the limit to how far he’ll go on that quest; an Enforcer, Master Doom, apprentice to Lord and Lady Vader (with a trait of “Lover of Lady Vader”) whose issue involves seeking vengeance against all Jedi for having killed his father; and a Historian, Lord Bethor Shan, who has plumbed the ancient vaults of the Sith for artifacts from bygone ages (he counts the droid Proxy, Revan’s Holocron and Luke Skywalker’s green lightsaber as part of this arsenal) and whose issue involves fighting the doubt nascent in him, gained from having studied history, of what the Sith Republic is really all about.
I know for a fact that the characters’ issues need to be reworded to achieve more bang, but this was enough to give everyone a starting point to get playing.
As Producer, I set the opening scene with the Sith Triumvirate arriving at the jungle planet of Tattooine to investigate an altercation at the palace of the noble House Calrissian; they had just been affected by a sandstorm and attacked by Sand People/Tusken Raiders, nevermind that the planet had not been a desert world in a few centuries and such events were implausible, if not outright impossible. More importantly, during the attack, Matron Calrissian was killed, leaving the control of the most powerful noble house of the Sith Republic in the hands of the Matron’s eldest son, Han Calrissian.
This was an actual event in my first Gen Con Star Wars PTA game back in 2007, and the idea, at least on my end as Producer, was to take them on a parallel story to that of our game, then diverge when the players/story decided it so based on their narration/in-game conflicts. The attack on House Calrissian was caused, as in the original game, by Tusken Raiders in the middle of a sandstorm, something not seen on Tattooine in centuries. During the attack, Matron Calrissian was killed and something was stolen. The characters interrogated and investigated, eventually going after a speeder seen taking off the palace into the jungle, following it to a ravine. There they saw a Sith Infiltrator starship from where a dark-robed figure drops into the chasm. This was all as in the original game (in fact, the figure that took off in the speeder was my character, Obi-Wan Skywalker). This is where the similarities ended, though.
The first conflict of the game involved the Historian dropping in from above, two lightsabers drawn, in the middle of a lightsaber duel at the bottom of the chasm. He won the conflict, so he managed to stop the duel and impose his presence as a Sith official and cower the duelists into submission. They tracked down the escaping speeder further down the canyon, finding a Tusken Raider ambush led by a Tusken Raider Jedi (this was all their narration). They entered a conflict against the sand people and won, slicing up the Jedi and taking him captive. They also realized the Tusken Raiders were really wookies in disguise (also a bit from the original game). The wookie Jedi, under interrogation back at the Sith’s starship and before dying, said that a droid had been stolen from the house and that they were too late, that the rebellion had already started. They also dealt with the other captives, going into conflicts to extract information from them. They won, but in their narrations they set them up as inconsequential characters to be dispatched (perhaps one of the biggest wasted opportunities during the game, and I totally failed to say anything at the moment).
They went back to investigating the attack on the Calrissian palace, calling the new leader of the noble house, Han Calrissian, up to the starship for further questioning, and sending the droid Proxy disguised as Han down to the planet to ask around about what was taken during the attack. The droid found that it was a cargo brought in the day before from members of House Fett (which is just about to be declared anathema). Meanwhile, the Archivist sought information on the Sith operative they found on Tattooine, a conflict I won, so he bumped against classified files on this operative. When in the scene right after, the Enforcer reports to Lady Vader, she orders him to stop that search and let the operative go, that he works for her.
Going down to the planet once more to investigate the site of the battle against the Tusken Raider-wookies, the Historian finds new tracks that he follows to a clearing where a freighter is being loaded by a skeleton crew led by a woman that looks like the spitting image of Jaina Solo, daughter of legendary heroes Han Solo and Leia Skywalker. The Historian enters a conflict to have the woman reveal that she is indeed part of the Rebellion. He wins, but another player won narration, so the two Force-users fight, with the woman winning the duel, but telling the Historian to stop being a “close-minded fool,” to stop following the Sith Lords blindly, to look at the bigger picture for the sake of the entire galaxy. From inside the loaded ship steps out the Sith operative under Lady Vader’s employ, asking the Historian to go away.
The Enforcer continues investigating and decides to personally interrogate Han Calrissian once more about the stolen cargo. He checked in with Lady Vader to seek permission, getting a resounding talk-down and a threat of demotion should he ever bother her with such a trivial matter. Arriving at the palace, the Enforcer has trouble keeping his violent personality in check when dealing with one of the highest-ranking nobles of the Republic, falling back on the intimidation techniques that work with pretty much everyone else. When Lord Calrissian’s answers about the stolen cargo coming from House Fett fail to satisfy the Sith Enforcer (“the boxes held furniture purchased from one of the recently confiscated Fett palaces”), he enters a conflict to use the Force to dig the information he wants to hear out of Calrissian’s mind. He loses the conflict; Han tells him that he is willing to help the authorities in all ways possible, that there is no need to use the Force this way. The Enforcer all but snaps, but manages to hold it in.
When investigating the broken-in cargo hold of the palace, the Enforcer snaps, demanding to know how come no one noticed this break in. Han shoots back that his mother was killed in the attack and that was his primary concern, not some stolen armoires. The Enforcer looses it and slams the noble with Force Lightning, entering a conflict to make Han reveal that he is a part of the forming Rebellion. He wins.
Leaving the noble battered, the Enforcer stops only to hear Lord Calrissian laughing, promising him, “next time you and I meet, only one of us will walk away. Now, leave immediately.” The Enforcer slams the noble with Force Lightnings once more, stopping when a squad of fifteen House Calrissian Stormtroopers enter and train their blasters on him. He tries to use the lightning on the squad, only to find his Force powers repelled. Taking the cue, the Enforcer leaves, not before the noble tells him that his days are coming to an end, for there is a rebellion brewing none can stop.
Upon returning to the starship and putting the other members of the Triumvirate up to date, the Enforcer calls in Lady Vader to report on the events at House Calrissian. “He spoke of a rebellion starting, My Mistress, of our days being numbered.” Lady Vader chuckled at this, saying, “All is proceeding according to plan, then. You have served me well, my apprentice. Contact me upon your return to Coruscant, and you shall serve me once again.”
Next Time on…
- The Historian stands in the halls of a nondescript Imperial structure, waiting, when the woman who looks like Jaina Solo appears. “I’m here.”
- The Archivist pours over a holographic database, when a dark-robed figure appears behind him, drawing a glowing orange lightsaber, the same color as the Historian’s.
- Arriving at the Imperial Palace in Coruscant, the Enforcer enters a chamber, only to be Force racked by Lady Vader.
- The Historian and a sabrak cross lightsabers, their rage-filled faces scant inches from each other.
Overall, it was a fun game and everyone greatly enjoyed it. By the second round of scenes, everyone was fully into the technique, even if at times some players had some trouble getting off the DM-narrates-everything paradigm of more traditional RPGs. They all loved the concept of shared narration, and though at first they tested the waters, asking/seeking my permission to affect the narration, by the end of the session they were full partners, checking in with the rest of the players to make changes in true collaborative fashion. Even the guy who was a bit apprehensive at first bought fully into the game and played his character to the hilt, especially once he internalized that we were going for drama and that that pursuit was what would determine the course of the story.
Turns out that this is a Star Wars TV show that rewards the uberfans. Two players (the Archivist and the Historian) are very well versed in Star Wars lore, and they drew on that knowledge to shape their characters, especially the Historian, with all the gadgets spanning millenia of Star Wars history. I know a fair bit, but I had to ask at times for the references in order to grasp what they were going for. The cool part is that it sort-of forced me to dig around the Wookieepedia a bit to understand the bits of history they had chosen to call on, and now I look forward to bringing some of this knowledge back into the game, capitalizing on the characters’ flags.
One thing that pleased me tons was when they “picked up” that the setting, with its noble Houses and Emperor(s)-figure looming in the background was drawing its dynamic on Dune, after which they informed their dealings with the nobility through that lens. I write “picked up” above because, in truth, this was them layering that idea down on the setting; in our Star Wars PTA game, though we have Lord Han Calrissian as a player character and certainly the noble houses have been used to great effect, we have not gone down the Dune road for modeling those interactions (at least not to my knowledge). That the players layered down this template upon the game setting, all by themselves with no involvement from me whatsoever, was in my eyes the crowning moment of the night in terms of seeing them fully run with the PTA style of play.
In retrospect, there were a few things that need to improve. Some of the conflicts we played through could have been a lot more powerful; very few of them involved the characters in tough dramatic situations the kind that you normally see on TV, and none involved two player characters facing off against each other. It’s not that those are absolutes in every PTA game, but they have been a part of my experience, so I was looking for them all night, but not quite getting them from the players. Given I was the one with the most PTA experience at the table, I know I failed to transmit whatever I have learned as well as I could have (it also didn’t help that it’s been 8 months since I last played PTA and we did not have the book there for me to refresh some concepts).
The way we did scenes was a bit jumbled as well. At points one player would be framing a scene and another player would then run with it, effectively giving that player two scenes in a round.
Scene-framing, however, they got mostly right, a pleasant surprise considering how normally this is one of the tough concepts to get when playing PTA. Early on, I pulled out a phrase I learned from Judd at Sons of Kryos, “Don’t play before we play,” and it became a mantra repeated a few times during the session, helping us all to set the stage for the play, and not to tell fiction involving the characters.
In general, I am very pleased with the game and I hope to have a chance to play one more episode before I leave Puerto Rico this week. At least I have left three new players exposed to story games and Primetime Adventures, and I know that they’ll be playing it again, whether with me or in a new series, soon enough.