Saturday, December 29, 2012

What's On Their Minds?

Recently I have encountered some issues in my super hero game, where one of my players took exception to how I responded to one of his character's actions.  Allow me to set the scene:

The team was at an auction, planning to bid for some magical item that would be key in bringing one of their own back to life.  Hey, it's a super hero game based on comic books, characters always have a chance to come back to life; it all depends on the circumstances.  The team's plan was to bid on the item and if they lost then try and convince whomever won to turn the item over.  Or beat the crap out of them and take it.  Again, it's based on a comic so violence is almost always a solution to any problem.  Things grew confused.  One player made an initial bid and another wondered if that was according to plan.  Bear in mind that after a couple weeks memories can get a little hazy.  I was not precisely sure what the plan was; I was going by a list of events I had planned out that would be triggered based on their actions.  However, I gave everyone plenty of time to change their minds if they wanted to.  Their item was the twelfth up for bid and I went over the first two items by way of providing the players an opportunity to scope out their surroundings, see the competition.  They had some two weeks of real time two change the plan somehow if they so desired.

Things began to break down.  A third party bid for the items, a potential ally or enemy depending upon circumstances.  It was at this point that the player in question decided to threaten to use their magic to destroy the items if they were not given to the team.  The auctioneer took exception to this and threatened sanctions against the character's magical clan if such an action were taken.  The player decided to vent to me privately.  They were upset that I did not give them enough time, that the implied consequences were too harsh.  Finally, they were claiming my assertion that he could not carry out the implied threat anyway did not matter because his character was bluffing.  I admit at this private e-mail I lost it.  For the past couple months off and on I had been getting these annoying e-mails from another player on one thing or another.  It was really calling my competence into question.  And now I was getting this long e-mail suggesting I had gotten so many things wrong?

This player has quit my game.  They might come back, I don't know.  Right now I don't really care.  I don't need that attitude in my game.  They were wrong about the execution of the plan, they were wrong in regards to the amount of time I gave the players to change the plan, they were wrong where it came to the threats the NPC was making against them.  And they were especially wrong when it came to the bluff.  You see, the player did not tell anyone they were bluffing.

This is not the first time the player had run a bluff and made a mess of things.  Months back, with another character, they had captured a wounded enemy.  This player told another player to threaten to destroy their captive's knee, to cripple the wounded villain. Keith, the one threatening to cripple the villain, role plays Black Angel as someone with She Hulk's strength-

Black Widow's training-

 and Wolverines psychotic attitude.

Black Angel was going to cripple the villain (Feldgrau, whom everyone thought was a Nazi based primarily on the name and the pic I chose, which has a woman wearing a leather military cap. Personally with her whip I saw her more as a dominatrix.  But I guess Keith thought that hey, if she were a Nazi then all bets were off.) without a second's thought.  This resulted in William, another player, role playing his character as strongly objecting to this torture.  The result was a big mess with my contentious player claiming this was all supposed to be a bluff.  The problem?  He did not tell anyone he intended this to be a bluff. He had assumed everyone would be on the same page as him.  The result was his character becoming unplayable because he was now stuck in the role of hero gone over the edge due to stress.  It was a horrible mess because he did not do one of two things. The first would have been the most direct, and the would have been some means of in-character interaction suggesting this was a bluff.  Keith's character could have easily made the threat of crippling the bad guy believable with Black Angel's training.  The second?  Internal monologue

Internal monologues are unique to PBEMs; they allow a player to express their character's inner thoughts, opinions and intentions so that the GM has a better handle on what the player has in mind.  If a character does not say out of character what their intentions are then use of an internal monologue is a perfectly acceptable (In fact, I would say preferable) alternative in many cases, provided the intent's nature is not needed to be known by other players.  This player did not seem to get the idea that if they are committing an action that seems ill-conceived or out of character, the other players and his GM are not telepathic and are unaware of his true intentions!  The same goes for table top games; a player can't simply sit there, tell the GM his player said something and assume that the GM knows he is bluffing if that is his intention.  One cannot assume anything is implied.

I hope this player comes back to my game at a later date. I have known him for twelve years and it would be a shame to end our friendship on this sad note.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Song of the Week, other stuff

Hey, look at that; I've got a tenth follower!  Welcome!


Damn, that makes me feel obligated to, you know, write something RPG related.  I am working on something but it probably won't be up 'til after the holidays.  In the mean time I realized that where Song of The Week is concerned I haven't posted any Tori Amos outside of her doing a cover of Kate Bush.

Tori Amos is one of those performers who was, in a way, cursed with starting out with the perfect album (Y Kant Tori Read does not count.  Why? Because I said so, that's why.).  Little Earthquakes is a masterpiece and I rank it up there with the likes of Kate Bush's Hounds of Love.  The problem is everything Tori did after that, to my ears, at least, simply does not measure up.  I like some of her songs here and there but overall I think Tori really nailed it on Little Earthquakes in a way she never quite did later on.

Okay, now this could just be a situation where a musical performer has gone to places I simply do not wish to follow.  I was never a fan of Prince's work, post Purple Rain.  And as much as it pains me to admit it, I am not digging Kate Bush's new material.  It happens.  So it could be that creatively Tori is still spot on and I am not hearing it.

Anyway, I think my favorite song off the album is Tear In Your Hand:

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Song of the week

Every Sunday night I listen to a radio program called The Sideshow.  Hosted by Nikki Sixx of Motley Crue fame and Kerri Kasem, daughter of Casey Kasem.  It is a heavy metal show and while I am not into all the tunes on their top twenty I often do come across some music I like. Take Volbeat, for example.  Danish rockers, Volbeat has been around since 2001, battling in the music trenches to finally get some recognition over on this side of the pond.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Study in Evil, Part VII

Last year I wrote a series of articles talking about various villains from different franchises.  I discussed T’Pol and Khan from Star Trek, The Empire from Star Wars, and Marvel Comics’ Emma Frost, The White Queen.  In each case I explained why I thought the different villains worked in their respective storylines and how in Frost’s case she had been horribly botched due to the retconning of her character in an attempt to make her less villainous.
Over the next few weeks...or months...I am going to be discussing a new crop of villains in much the same manner. But what separates these bad guys from the others is what ties them together.  I speak of a character’s journey from villainy to the side of light...or at least moving a tad bit away from the dark. 

We begin with this man.

David Xanatos.

Before I get further into this I have to talk about the series this character comes from.

Gargoyles was one of the best television series ever made.  Not just animated series: television series.  Period.  Not only was the art good, the plotting was well laid, the scripts well written.  The voice acting talent was also wonderful; it was comprised of half the cast of Star Trek, The Next Geneartion.  It was a show adults and children could both enjoy in that the violence was not too extreme but at the same time writers did not shy away from adult subjects like family, loss, death.  And on top of that villains were actually complex; I think of all the bad guys introduced only one of them aside from the Vikings in the first episodes was out and out evil.

And speaking of complex villains we return to the picture above, and the most awesome bad guy of all: David Xanatos.  Xanatos was the principle villain through a majority of the Gargoyles television series (We are ignoring the follow up series The Goliath Chronicles as I never saw it and from what I have heard it was terrible.  Apparently Disney made the gargoyles more kid friendly, thus largely destroying that which made them cool.).  He first appeared in the series as the man who broke the gargoyles’ curse by purchasing the castle where they rested and placing atop his skyscraper.  This fulfilled the conditions of the curse which would allow them to once more become animated during night time.  Xanatos then proceeded to manipulate Goliath and the gargoyles into staging a series of robberies, his entreaties aided by the appearance of Goliath’s former lover (Which we discovered was given the name “Demona” by the humans she had terrified.  It is a name as subtle as Sinestro.).  Goliath discovered that instead of recovering property stolen from Xanatos, the gargoyles had instead acted as thieves!  When confronted Xanatos responded , using robot gargoyles to attempt to kill the real ones, a plot that failed.  Demona apparently fell to her death and Xanatos was arrested by the police for endangering the public.

After this utterly awesome story arc that 1) established the gargoyles’ origin, 2) introduced two of the series’ principle villains and 3) provided the setting where most of the series would take place (New York City), Xanatos would appear in later episodes.  Even when he was not directly confronting the gargoyles he was manipulating events from behind the scenes.  So, what makes him a great villain even though he lost in his initial outing with the gargoyles?

Xanatos has a wonderful origin: David Xanatos’ father was a simple fisherman from Maine, but old man Xanatos’ son had bigger aspirations.  He created an empire based around selling a series of old coins sent to him anonymously.  It turned out that Xanatos would later travel through time, acquire the coins and arrange to have said coins mailed to his younger self, fulfilling his claim that he is literally a self made man!  

Xanatos is charismatic as hell:  Along the way David secured the services of Puck:

No, not that puck.

And not that puck, either.  I am talking about the Faerie puck, the trickster.  And he discovered Demona and secured an alliance with her.  The man even managed to manipulate his girlfriend into becoming a super villain for him when he created The Wild Pack!

Xanatos is resourceful: This is a guy who likes to change things up.  Robot gargoyle’s don’t work?  Fine, create a super villain team to fight them.  That did not work?  Find Goliath’s old brother, turn him into a freak of nature cyborg called Coldstone and sicc him on the heroes.  That did not work?  Create a suit of hi-tech armor.  That does not work?  Bring back your super villain team but upgrade them.  Huh, that didn't work either?  And true, Xanatos often lost, but…

The Glass is half full.  Xanatos was such a master schemer he always got something out of his losses.  When the gargoyles destroyed his robots he learned something from it.  When they defeated The Wild Pack, again he gained intelligence.  The man’s schemes never ended entirely in defeat.  He was so good at planning his method of thinking became known as The Xanatos Gambit.

And finally...

Xanatos is reformed.  David Xanatos had a very fulfilling character arc.  He went from arch nemesis to ally and through it all one could see the character's growth.

So as a GM what can you learn from this character?  First of all, if you do have a recurring villain, each time he appears there should be a fresh take every time the heroes encounter him.  Each plot should be a little different, his goals should change.  Or if they do not change he is coming at them from a different direction.  Xanatos exemplified this.  Imagine how boring the series would have been if every major encounter involved the team having to split up into different groups to head to different parts of the Earth to retrieve a segment of some device?

I find it a miracle GI Joe lasted as long as it did considering just about every episode descended in people firing red and blue laser beams at one another.

Second, do not be afraid to make your villains intelligent.  Now, that does not mean you should make your players feel like idiots, but there is nothing wrong with pushing your characters a bit, testing them.  These are supposed to be smart guys.  So even if they are defeated and captured they should have an out.  This does raise the problem of players growing frustrated with never capturing or entirely defeating the bad guy, so it is very, very important to use your recurring villain sparingly.  Make every encounter with him an Event.

Third, rather than making your villain a two dimensional cardboard cutout, give him some depth.  What if he can be reformed?  Remember this guy?

Now remember when Luke managed to turn him back to the light side?  When he threw The Emperor down the shaft?  It was a wonderful, feel good moment.  Hint to the players that there is a core of decency, morality, honor buried somewhere in that menacing, manipulative visage.  Have players try and reach it, cultivate it.  What if the true victory is not to defeat or kill the villain, but to turn them?

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Song of the week

Back in the nineties there was this song, Tubthumping, from a band named Chumbawumba.

Wow.  I really hated that song.

That being said, I was watching Todd In The Shadows last week (Todd has a great show at That Guy With The Glasses: One Hit Wonderland) and he was discussing Chumbawumba.  During the review he played a clip of Chumbawumba's other hit single, Amnesia.

And I really wish this is the one that got airplay here in the States.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Song of the week

So, let's talk covers.

For those of you who don't know, Peter Gunn was a television series about a private detective.  It is famous more for it's awesome theme song than for the show itself.  It was covered by the Blues Brothers for their movie back in 1980 and then in '85 it was covered by The Art of Noise featuring Duane Eddie on guitar.

And if it was not for Duane Eddie's guitar work I think this would have been a disaster.

Admittedly this version is not for everyone, but I like it...

But not as much as the Blues Brother's cover.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Song of the week

Before last Thursday I did not know this guy existed.  I was channel chasing that morning, came across VH1 (VH1 shows music videos early in the morning: Jump Start) and this was playing: Gary Clark Jr., Ain't Messin' Round.

And I seriously dig everything about this song.

Friday, November 16, 2012

The Eyes Have It

Okay, well, it’s been a while since I submitted an actual article at the blog.  There have been three reasons for this.  The first is my contributions to The Agony Booth.  Recaps there take a little longer, as I have to repeatedly watch episodes of the subject matter, do screen caps and then format the Word documents in a format that can be posted there.  There is a very gracious man there named Albert O’Boogie that makes the whole thing possible and who acts as unofficial editor of my material.  So if you read one of my articles there and thought it sucked??  It could have been worse.  I new posting is up, by the way.  You can see it here.

The second reason is I admit I have been slacking.  These are the last days of City of Heroes.  When November 30 passes so does COH.  I am very, very depressed at this. City of Heroes is one of the best games out there and it’s passing will be mourned by a great many geeks.  So I have been playing the game a bit more than I really should.

Finally, the third reason is due to a lack of material to write about.  I am working up another series of articles regarding bad guys much like I did last year.  But this means sitting down and watching at least a few key episodes of the various series that these characters appear in.   But other than that there had not been a great deal of inspiration regarding what to talk about, RPG wise.

And then this week, inspiration struck.  Struck the way a car plows into a deer.

I am running a second game.  Yeah, I think some time in the past I might have said I was never going to do that again.  So past self?  Shut up.  I am running a second game: Star Wars, Rise of The Republic.  Taking place one year after Return of The Jedi, ROTR recounts the adventures of a group of misfit heroes on the outer edge of the galaxy, fighting a rogue Imperial admiral with aspirations to create an empire of his own.  Some familiar players are participating and I managed to snag a few new ones.  One of them turned out to be a problem

I will not note the player’s name here.  Allowing this player into my game was, well, a mistake.  A big mistake.  You see, the player turned out to be a SpecialSnowflake.

What is a Special Snowflake, you ask?  Well if you did not go to the link I so helpfully provided, I will briefly explain.  A Special Snowflake is a player who has to run the outrageous character, the unique one that stands out.  The half giant assassin, for example.  Or the neutral Jedi.  The Special Snowflake pushes, then breaks the rules regarding character creation and to the GM who allows it, woe betide them!  On top of that, more often than fact almost always...the Special Snowflake has to run the most powerful character in the game as well.

This player submited a character: a hybrid.  In Star Wars.  Amazingly enough there are hybrids in Star Wars, among one or two races (Combined with humans.  Of Course.).  To my knowledge we never, ever saw on in any of the six films but they do show up in other works.  I suppose the character was annoying to me because hybrids are so prevalent in Star Trek games, to the point of ridiculousness.  One of the reasons I am running a Star Wars game was to get away from that nonsense!

So being the one race was not good enough.  But this was just the character’s base; building upon it was the story that the character’s spouse managed to download their beloved’s mind into a droid body!  I expressed by reservations regarding this character and so the player came back with another one.  This one was a humanoid droid modified to be able to pass for human, superficially.  At least, that was how I interpreted it.  The player ran the character a bit differently.
Back to that later.  The character piloted an outdated Naboo starfighter, explaining that numerous modifications made the vessel competitive.  To use an analogy, this is like saying her character was flying an F4 Phantom, first flown in the late fifties:

-and saying that it could still somehow be competitive against an F-15, first flown in the early seventies-

 -by just updating the computers.  Now one could argue that they were not flying an antiquated aircraft, that they were flying a brand new one.  The problem with that is, the only people allowed to produce fighter craft by this point would have been The Empire, so no nation has their own fighter program.  But even, for the sake of argument, the character got their hands on a brand new fighter an upgraded it much like the Northrop F-5 Tiger was upgraded to the F-20 Tigershark.

That aircraft was meant to be sold to foreign markets, while the Americans were meant to fly the superior F15s, F16s, and their still formidable F14s.  The point I am making is, by the time of this game the Naboo starfighter is obsolete.  Hell, Lucas was pointing out the evolution of starfighters by including TIE Interceptors and A-Wing fighters in Return of The Jedi!

...So point is I thought their character flying the Naboo starfighter was a dumb idea. Add to that the player wanted a R6 astromech droid, the latest and greatest as well as a “blaster shotgun”, a nonexistent weapon in the SW universe and I should have known I was in trouble.

The player decided on their own that they did not want their character's most distinctive features-the eyes-to get in the way of her being able to move about with impunity.  Without consulting me beforehand they decided their character possessed flip-down contact lenses to disguise the eyes; the player ASSumed such a thing would be just fine.  Me?  No, it was not.  The final straw was their playing style.  Setting aside their inability to use the caps key on their keyboard, the player decided their character would be confrontational with an NPC, right after another PC had been confrontational with said NPC and was called on it!

Of course the player attempted to defend their actions, saying their character was merely trying to point out how useful they would be to the NPC and that the confrontation was done privately.  Regardless of the motivation, this player’s actions were little better than the others. But the result was the same; to the PC’s mind the NPC had made a stupid mistake.  How repeating the same thing the other player said using different language was supposed to help I have no idea.  Apparently the PC was offering their services as a protocol droid to smooth things over.
I confronted the player on this privately and they just could not get what they did wrong.  And that was when I decided I had made a terrible mistake.  I should have proofed the character better, I should have been more adamant in my requirements.  Instead I saw the character not on its own merits but was comparing it to the prior submission and in that light it was a vast improvement.
Just not enough of one.

The player claimed I was taking this personally.  And hey yeah, maybe I was.  Perhaps I was seeing her PC's criticism of my NPC's actions as an attack on my abilities as a GM.  I won't deny that I took it personally the first time it happened.  But I think I took more offense to the stupidity of this character to do the very same thing after I expressed my frustration the first time it happened.  

Here is what really made the character unplayable.  Bad enough the weapon (Which could be excused, as there are all sorts of weapons in the SW universe), bad enough to antiquated Naboo starfighter (Admittedly, it is a nice looking work of art.), bad enough the R6 protocol droid (In the player’s defense, perhaps they were not aware the R6 came out the very year the game was being played.).  It was the eyes.  The eyes did it for me.  For all intents and purposes this character could pretend to eat and drink and have sex and walk around with normal looking eyes.  It could pass for human.  It was 76 years old, could speak 2 million dialects, was not vulnerable to those things fleshy creatures were.  It could exist in the harsh environment of space and talk to droids!
So where was the downside?

When running a game the GM must try to insure there is some level of parity between PCs.  Not everyone is going to run the same sort of character but there has to be some checks and balances.  If a PC wants to run a character with some extraordinary powers like Vulcans and their superior strength, intellect, and telepathic ability then at least there is the check that that player must role play the Vulcan in a certain manner and there may be things that the Vulcan might be vulnerable humans are resistant to.  If a GM is not careful then he winds up with a Luke Skywalker circa Return of The Jedi in the party-

 -a character far more powerful than the rest.  Or for you Firefly fans, a River Tam who is basically a five foot three inch telepathic murder machine.

If one is playing a droid with a host of extraordinary abilities then the downside is droid racism.  Droids are considered second class citizens, they are viewed largely as property.  They are not allowed in some places (Who can forget the bartender from Star Wars, Episode IV nodding at C-3P0 and R2-D2 and saying “We don’t serve their kind here!”?).  And this player decided without consulting me on it they did not want to have to have to deal with any of that. They wanted all the pluses, none of the minuses.
There is another name for the type of character the player was running: a Mary Sue.  Highly skilled, possessing numerous advantages, few if any disadvantages (or disadvantages that could be easily countered).  Yes, Mary Sue is a perfect name for this character.

The player is gone, now.  Having been unable to see eye-to-eye (pun intended) I booted them from the game.   So, what can you learn from my errors?   When you start a game you should have standards you need to adhere to, and you should stick to them as best you possibly can.  Take each character on it's own merits rather and measure them to the ideal you have in your head.  If the character exceeds that ideal in any way then you should consult the player and discuss that which bothers you.  If a player presents a character you do not like then presents a second character that is marginally better, do not settle for marginally better just to get them in the game.  Remember, it is not just for yourself you are doing this; you are also doing this for your fellow players.  The ones who are more interested in role playing rather than engaging in some sort of competition to be the most powerful or skilled.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Song of the week

Well, I finally have an article in the works.  I can't say I am exactly happy regarding the circumstances of the article's inspiration but if life gives you potatoes you make vodka, right?  I should have it up by Saturday, maybe sooner.

In the mean time, one of my favorite U2 songs.  A pity it is wedded to a mediocre movie. :/

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Song of The Week

Billy Squier's Don't Say No is one of the best albums ever recorded.  It has songs like The Stroke, My Kinda Love, Lonely Is The Night, In The Dark and Two Daze Gone.  It is one of the best rock and roll albums ever pressed to vinyl.

Now, that being said, my favorite Billy Squier single is not on Don't Say No.  That song is Everybody Wants you, from his follow up album, Emotions In Motion.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Happy Halloween, everyone!

Tim Burton gets lots of flak these days, mostly because of his Alice In Wonderland and Dark Shadows movies.  And there are those who aren't fans of his Charlie and The Chocolate Factory film, either.  I think it is because he has fallen into a rut...or the ruts had always been there and they became glaringly obvious when he fell flat on his face three times in a row.

But I still think Burton has it in him and from what the guys at Friday Night Fright Flicks have to say about Frankenweenie this is true.  Burton just needs to stop hiring Johnny Depp and he needs to stop writing stories about misunderstood weirdos.  Okay, yeah, the kid in Frankenweenie seems to be much of the same type but at least it was a role Depp couldn't play.

Anyway, this week's song is from Burton's second foray into animation (after his Frankenweenie short, that is), The Nightmare Before Christmas.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Song of The Week

What Halloween themed song of the week...thing...would be complete without Marylin Manson?

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Song of The Week

You can't talk about shock rock or horror rock without discussing the man who to my mind practically invented the genre: Alice Cooper.  My aunt owned Welcome To My Nightmare on vinyl and I had no idea what the hell I was listening to.  It was not my Dad's Beatles, that was for sure!

I love the fact that Alice got Vincent Price to do the introduction to this song, The Black Widow:

Friday, October 12, 2012

The Cola Wars

I saw another Star Trek ad recently (I will not provide the name or link, out of respect for my peer) and naturally the ship in question had not only Marines on board, but a fighter wing as well.  This has become increasingly common for Star Trek games over the years, adding both Marines and fighter craft to ships even when including either makes no sense whatsoever.  It is obviously an attempt to garner more players rather than an attempt to produce the sort of game the GM wants to play...unless the game the GM wants to play is a war game rather than a traditional Star Trek game.

The last sentence induced me into writing a long, long rant about how over rated Deep Space Nine is, but that is not the focus of this article.  The focus is how in an attempt draw in players GMs have resorted to gimmicks.  They have decided that they have to have Marines on their ships, even though there are no Marines in Star Trek (Someone argued with me that GMs cannot be bound by canon.  While this is true to an extent there is a difference between creating a new race for an adventure and an entirely new military branch that has never been seen before and implying that it had always been there!).  They have to have fighter wings on their vessels, even though very few ships would actually employ fighters.  Because unless you are going to have a ship carrying twenty or more fighter craft, unless the vessel is a dedicated carrier (which would then be surrounded by support craft to defend it) then carrying fighters make no damn sense.  But it goes even beyond that, with GMs adding diplomatic officers, intelligence officers, foreign affairs officers (Just what, exactly, is the difference between diplomacy and foreign affairs?), etc.  In their (sometimes pathetic) desperation to get people to play their games GMs attempt to make their Star Trek game be all things to all people and all too often it just does not work.  The fact is, The Next Generation did just fine telling stories without all these extra departments.  And yes, DS9 added the role of Strategic Operations officer when Worf was added.  Do you know why Worf was added to DS9?  Because the show was desperate to maintain ratings.  Do you see a parallel here?

A person at one of the fleets argued that what if they wanted to run an adventure where a diplomat was needed?  Then you add a diplomat NPC to the mix.  The Original Series did it all the time in episodes like The Galileo Seven, A Taste of Armageddon, Journey to Babel and Is There in Truth no Beauty?.  What, exactly, is the diplomat's player supposed to do during adventures where no diplomacy is going on? 

And how do most 'Trek games start?  The crew are assigned to a new ship, they are interviewed by the  captain, some of the players do joint posts with one another while others quietly disappear because they discovered the captain could not write or they realized some of their fellow players were power gaming munchkins.

Wow.  Scintillating.

I will give Jeri Taylor, Michael Pillar and Rick Berman credit when they wrote the first episode of Voyager: Caretaker.  In it the crew getting together was part of the adventure.  Chakotay and Torres were Maquis rebels, Tuvok was under cover, Tom Paris was persuaded to come along and with the death of the ship's doctor was dead so the Emergency Medical Hologram had to take his place for the duration. It was exciting television.  Of course, the producers pissed all that potential away over the course of two seasons, but the point is they did something Different.

All of this led me to thinking that maybe, juuuuust maybe, Star Trek games have run their course.  There has not been any new Star Trek on television since Voyager went off the air in 2001.  Enterprise does not count.  Enterprise never counts.  Yes, we had a movie in 2009 and we have a new one coming out in 2013 but I do not think the former generated, nor will the latter produce much if any interest in players getting involved in a game taking place JJ Abram's universe.  Also the format of most Star Trek games can prove to be problematic for GMs.  Think about it; for a Star Trek game to work effectively a GM needs: a First Officer, an Operations Officer, a Chief Engineer, A Security/Tactical Officer, and a Chief Medical Officer, along with possibly a Flight Control Officer and Science Officer.  It used to be a GM could find replacements easily if/when other players dropped out unexpectedly but these days I do not think there is as great an interest in PBEMs like there was at the height of Star Trek's popularity so finding enough players to populate your game is much harder.

So, what is the answer?  What sorts of sci-fi games can GMs run that might garner more interest.

I'm glad you asked.  Perhaps it is time to taste the other cola:

To my surprise Star Wars, The Clone Wars is now in it's fifth season and going strong (I caught a couple episodes this season and I concede that the writing does not suck.).  George Lucas released the original trilogy on blu-ray a little while ago.  Star Wars is very much in the public consciousnesses these days.

Star Wars also has the benefit of being able to be played in different eras, much like Star Trek can.  And also like Star Trek some eras are more popular than others.  There are not many games taking place during the first six 'Trek movies and The Original Series, for example, mainly because many of those fans are, well, getting older and dying.  In Star Wars' case I can imagine a great many people might be interested in playing during the Clone Wars because of Episodes I-III and the animated series, but I still think there is a large fan base for episodes IV-VI.

A very large, firm fan base, always willing to take on stiff competition.  A fan base that stands erect wh-

Okay, I'm going to stop there.

But wait!  You might say.  Star Trek is all about exploration and science as well as war, and Star Wars is just a fantasy war epic in space.  And to those who might say that, I respectfully disagree.  Look at later Star Trek franchis and you see a growing distance between the more science fiction aspects of The Original Series (The Original Series predicted floppy disks, cell phones, Blue Tooth, advanced medical diagnostic equipment) and an approach towards magical technologies seen in The Next Generation and beyond (holodecks, replicators that can make anything, all problems solved with technobabble, which may as well be people reciting magic spells).  Star Wars has The Force, Star Trek has Q so each one has their own mystic plot devices as well.

And both franchises have had their respective brain farts:

Oh look, I've gone and hurt their feelings.

I have read some of the Star Wars comics, the ones published back in the day and penned by the likes of Ann Nocenti.  Star Wars was as much about diplomacy and espionage as it was straight up war.  And with a little tweaking a GM can easily make stories about exploration and science work.

Now, if I decided to run a Star Wars game I would have it take place during the post Episode VI era, because if you run a game during Episodes I-III, (Which includes the Clone Wars television series.) there is a sense of inevitability to it. You know the Republic will fall, don't you?  I would much rather run a game during a time period where there is a blank canvas.  And yes, I know there are some novels that are considered canon by Lord Lucas but I do not think it is fair to potential players to have read these books in order for you to enjoy your game.  Oh sure, you could describe what happened in those books, or direct them to web sites like Wookiepedia but how much fun is that?  It's like trying to describe a television episode to someone; there is no joy in second hand knowledge.  Worse, it's like assigning homework.

So if I ran the game I would say the Emperor is dead, no one outside of the Rebellion inner circle is aware of how he died and the Empire is in chaos. The New Republic is on it's way towards being born but there is still quite a few Empire vessels out there, controlled by ambitious and ruthless Admirals.  And while momentum is on the side of the New Republic it still means they have a long way to go before they win.  They are going to have to make deals with the less reprehensible commanding officers of those ships to take them out of play or to turn them to their side.  They are going to have to convince hundreds of systems to return to the Republic.  This is all stuff covered in some of the novels and it is in this sort of world I would rather run a game, where I as a GM have some creative freedom.

There is one issue to address up front, the wampa in the room, as it were.  Jedi Knights.  I tried running a game with an all Jedi group and in retrospect I think it was a mistake.  Trained Jedi Knights are lethal murder machines.  Danger Sense, enhanced reflexes, super leaping, super speed, telekinesis, mind control.  All that combined with a unique weapon that can deflect blaster fire and dismember people with ease and a GM would really need to work hard to come up with legitimate threats that go beyond sending waves of droids or storm troopers.  Boba and Jango Fetts are rare and while it would be neat to see a squad of those bad asses-

it is not something you can do often.  The same goes for the Sith.  You could allow a single player to run a Jedi knight but that seems so very unfair and unbalancing to the game. So no Jedi Knights.

Say for the sake of argument you take my advice and run the game post Ep. VI.  There are a great many opportunities for world building here.  Yes, the Emperor is dead, that does not mean his admirals and Grand Moffs are just going to roll over.  Likely they are going to build their own empires or flee in the wake of war crime tribunals.  In all of this chaos then it is up to the PCs to either fight the good fight…Or make a buck.  Thus we have the two types of campaigns to run.

The first type of game is inspired by the Firefly television series…

...which was in large part inspired by the first Star Wars movie:

The crew of an independent light freighter operating one step ahead of the law has an undeniably romantic appeal.  Your characters could be working class stiffs trying to make a living and winding up running into trouble from both sides of the conflict.  Do they risk the easy cash of smuggling goods across battle lines or are they having enough trouble with the local Hutt crime boss?

Or what if they are secretly New Republic agents posing as shady characters, operating among the criminal underworld on secret missions.  Your characters might have to stay one step ahead of the law in order to maintain their cover while at the same time dealing with the scum of the universe with little back up.  Hey, no one said being a secret agent was easy!

There are lots of different models of light freighter to choose from: the Corellian YG-4210 light freighter, for example. Or the YT-2400.  Or the Ghtroc 720 freighter.  Or the YT-2000.  There are lots of choices and there are places where you can find deck plans for some of these ships.

Perhaps a military game is more your bent?  If so I think the way to go would be to either run the PCs as a sort of special unit tasked on ground missions, or the crew of a small corvette, or as a fighter squadron.  Or
And then there is a third option: mercenaries.  War produces chaos, and there are often different theaters involving different sorts of problems for both sides.  And in some cases some backwaters that cannot be adequately defended can fall prey to opportunistic predators.  If the New Republic cannot spare the resources to defend them then perhaps it is up to a ragtag band to do the job?  Deserters, adventurers, alpha males who don’t respond to authority very well.  These could be the sort to step up to defend the far reaches where pirates, freebooters and the odd Imperial boot comes a-steppin’.

And then there are the bounty hunters.

Dog looks both silly and awesome...awesomely silly, if you will.  I can see how some of his gear is necessary but it feels as if he is attending some sort of cosplay event.  Still, the point I am trying to make here is that Dog is not a bad guy.  He is a bounty hunter who goes after people who legitimately need to be hunted down.  And playing a bounty hunter in an environment where the New Republic is ascending might be fun.  Think of all the Imperial scumbags your character might want to track down?

Here is an example of a game I tried to run until it imploded…and yes, I freely admit I was in part to blame for the circumstances.  In one case I let someone play a furry from another dimension.  Yes, I was stupid.  Let’s move on.  The concept of the game was the players were Republic agents posing as mercenaries.  The PCs were pilots who flew a variety of small craft.  I was inspired by the anime Area 88, which is about a group of mercenary pilots who fight a war in a fictional desert country.  Each pilot flew a different sort of fighter craft and it was a pretty awesomely animated series.  I am sorry I did not try harder to make the game work as I think the fact that players were able to choose their own fighter craft rather than being forced to pilot X-Wings made them enjoy it a bit more.

Here is another example of a game I did not run but it is inspired by the idea of characters forced together through a shared crisis. In one Dungeons & Dragons game I ran a caravan was assaulted and the PCs had to flee.  The first story arc involved pure survival, total strangers bound together by necessity.  I mentioned in another article about a DM I knew named Ned who did something similar (his idea inspired mine) where a town was attacked and the PCs were literally bound together by a chain.  You could do something similar in a Star Wars game.

Imagine this; the planet Nurest is a backwater, a lightly populated planet and one the Republic has little interest in.  A few Republic ships are there based at a small settlement for repair, some tired crew take solace in the minor recreations while they await reassignment.  It is a safe place.  Until a surprise attack by Imperial forces compel the inhabitants of this settlement to band together to survive!  Bounty hunters, Imperial deserters, freighter captains and Republic personnel all must find a way to escape and survive!  There you go.  The PCs have a wide variety of character types to choose from and they have a shared goal.  From that the GM can find a way to keep the gang together after the initial crisis is past.

Or here is another idea.  Science fiction and fantasy writing demigod David Drake wrote a Hammers Slammers novel called Rolling Hot:
The premise was a group of battle fatigued vets and raw recruits based at a staging area far from the front are called upon to stage a desperate run to the planet's capital to prevent the war from being lost.  So you've got this bunch of misfits who don't know one another, led by this battle fatigued captain who is starting to lose it.  It is an awesome read.  Now imagine you using it for a campaign.  A group of veterans and rookies, or a group of Republic pilots and some misfits, are called upon to break a planetary siege, perhaps to deliver a much needed vaccine or counter some form of ecological warfare.  No one else is available, it is up to this motley bunch.  And in the end perhaps this motley bunch realizes that hey, maybe they work pretty damn well together.

You see?  Something a little different from the same old boring 'Trek formula.

So next time you think about running a Star Trek game, think about that other franchise and consider that perhaps it might be the tastier choice.