Ok, so I wanted to report on a couple of gaming experiences, looking for any interesting analysis and observations from y’all, and particularly with an eye towards understanding the difference between intuitive continuity and bangs.
The first game I want to describe is a session of Star Wars: Dark Times, which for rules uses my hack of someone else’s hack of Cthulhu Dark. The session was a one shot at a recent con, and there were no pre-gens or any adventures prepped. In this game the players play Jedi during the time period after Order 66 was enacted, and before the events of Rogue One and Episode four, so in other words the Empire is in strong control and it’s illegal to be a Jedi. If interested you can check out the write-up of the game rules in this folder: https://drive.google.com/drive/folders/1--3-xR07BXaS-iAfUa_QEulRf5I0fy3M
After the players created their characters and I drew up a quick relationship map (I was the GM), we started play with two of the Jedi hiding out on the same planet, albeit unknown to each other. One was passing himself off as a local healer, who used herbs and so on to help the community but secretly used his Force healing to cure them; the other on the same planet was basically a Robin Hood type of thief. Jedi #3 (I forget their names) joined a smuggling gang.
So as a GM these were my thoughts: ok, I need to get the characters together, and there needs to be a central problem to be confronted by the time the session ends. How can I bring them all together to face the same problem? What would compel the Jedi to come out of hiding? After that, for the session to be satisfying, it’d help if there’s either an interim goal the PCs need to accomplish, or they try to solve the problem only to discover there’s an even bigger problem they need to fix. The final climax should involve the character’s tragedy and other background, combined with a strong temptation to the Dark Side.
Ok, so my first question is this: is the line of thinking I described above intuitive continuity, or something else? It’s certainly not bangs, it seems almost like a total railroad actually (although I was ready to switch the story around if the players went in a different direction).
I asked the players if they had any particular ideas, or anything they especially wanted or didn’t want in the game, but no one expressed any preferences. What I decided to go with as the central problem was: Force-sensitive children were being actively sought for and hunted by Imperial agents; these children would then by brought to a central location and trained to become Sith, or experimented on. Even the most jaded Jedi would be hard-pressed to resist doing something about this.
The first scene took place on planet A (having trouble with keeping all those names straight at my advanced age :-) ) in a cantina (of course!), with Jedi #2 (the thief) in a hooded cloak, alone at a table in the corner. A bruised and battered fellow enters the bar, and asks if he can find <Jedi#2’s code name>. The bartender nods towards the table. The bruised guy sits across from him and after a few pleasantries tells him why he needs a Jedi: an old friend of his in the Imperial administration came across a secret project that disturbed him, so he leaked what he could. He proceeds to tell the Jedi that Imperial agents are enroute to capture some Force-sensitive children on Tatooine, to be taken to some secret location for training or experimentation. Jedi #2 uses his Force sense to see whether the informant is tricking him, but the player rolls well and everything seems on the up-and-up. He is disturbed by what he hears, but mentions that this job is too big for just one person. Who should happen to pass by then but Jedi #1 - hey, Force synchronicity and all that :-) After their joyful reunion, they agree to accompany the informant to Tatooine on his fast passenger ship.
Jedi #3 is with her group of smugglers when their boss calls them all in: they’ve got a special commission from a branch of the Imperial Security Forces, very hush-hush - pick up a “package” from Tatooine and deliver it to an Imperial naval vessel at a rendezvous point. If they do well, they’ll be given more missions in the future with increased pay. The smuggling crew is thrilled, and they set off on their freighter for Tatooine.
Both ships exit hyperspace at the same time, and the Jedi sense each other. Jedi #1 rolls particularly well and realizes that Jedi #3 is aboard the freighter, while she senses that there is at least one force-user on the other ship, but nothing more than that. Without any easy means to communicate, they can only speculate about each other's intentions.
From my perspective as GM, this was the most uncomfortable part of the session - I had to struggle a bit to come up with how to get everyone together, and to some extent it felt like I was forcing people into it; I wasn’t entirely sure what I’d do if one of the Jedi wanted to go off and do something completely different. If it were one session of an ongoing campaign, I would have relaxed more and just went with whatever, but in a one-shot I felt considerable pressure to get everyone on the right (railroad?) track.
So they all land at the spaceport, and Jedi #1 and 2 leave to scout the location where the children are being held. Meanwhile, Jedi #3 discovers the awful truth about her smuggling mission, and resolves to thwart her employer and rescue the children. She also discovers where the children are being taken to, an Imperial black site on the edge of the galaxy.
I guess this account is getting kind of long, so I'll abbreviate things. The first two Jedi find the kids and rescue them with the judicious use of Jedi mind tricks (“these aren’t the droids you’re looking for”) and some Force telekinesis. On the way back, they have a run-in with the group of smugglers, but Jedi #3 turns the tables on them and together the Jedi and the Force kids flee the area.
As GM, I didn’t have to do much in this particular sequence: I asked myself where a logical place to hold the captives would be, what were the bad guys doing, how would the smugglers react, and so on. Basically pretty easy. Now as the group heads back to the spaceport, I wanted to add in some tension, so I came up with the idea that a force-sensitive imperial agent on the planet felt the Jedis’ use of the force, and reported this to the nearest Star Destroyer. Knowing they had an important asset on the planet, the Imperials sent a ship right away - so I announce to the players that they hear the roar of TIE fighters and an Imperial shuttle headed for Mos Eisley.
The heroes book it for their ship in the spaceport, calling their informant and instructing him to prep the ship for takeoff on the way. The loading ramp is down as they hustle the kids to the ship - only to be greeted by the sight of stormtroopers and a black-robed Sith headed towards them in the docking bay. Commands are issued and ignored, blasters are fired, lightsabers flash, stormtroopers are knocked down like bowling pins, but the Jedi successfully get everyone on board and take off with only a couple of wounds.
Unfortunately, before their ship’s navi-computer can make the necessary calculations to enter hyperspace, the TIE fighters are on them. Their ship loses both front and rear deflector shields and takes out two of the TIEs before they’re able to make their escape. Their destination is the black site Jedi #3 found, where other captured children are being made to join the Dark Side or being experimented on.
The Jedi tell the informant to remain onboard with the rescued kids, while they infiltrate the imperial base. Jedi mind tricks and Force Stealth are used liberally. Eventually they reach the floor where the Force-sensitive kids are kept. As they begin freeing them, they sense the strong presence of the Dark Side. Three Sith enter the room, one of them a Sith Lord/Lieutenant/Big Baddie. He mocks the Jedi, saying they knew some Light Side fools would eventually come here, and that the Sith were more than ready for them. Everyone draws lightsabers. Big Bad attacks Jedi #2 with Force lightning, smashing him to the ground while continuing to mock him: “you are weak! If you only knew the power of the Dark Side, you would not have let your apprentice be killed; her death is your fault,” and so on. Similar things happen with the other two Jedi, the Sith trying to tempt them to the Dark Side by bringing up their tragic past, taunting them into giving in (“release your anger! Only your hatred can save these children”), and so on. Lightsabers strike, block, and clash; people are Force-pushed into equipment, sparks fly, walls crumble.
Now it started to become very interesting for me. The players began to use their Force senses to gain information on their opponents’ backgrounds, and try to bring them to the Light Side. Jedi #3 doesn’t get much luck on her rolls doing this, and her Sith is largely unmoved. Jedi #1, on the other hand, has his Sith (let’s call him Sith B) on the brink of turning - this Sith was bullied and mistreated as a child, and turned to the Dark Side once he began intuitively using the Force; it gave him the power he felt he was so sorely lacking. “Look,” the Jedi says, “those children in there are just like you, as powerless as you once were - and you’re abusing them, just like you were abused in the past. Join me, and let’s save these children together, to do for them what no one did for you.” We come to a major climax point, where both the Sith and this Jedi are at their last health point. The Jedi’s player rolls - and fails! Since his Light Side connection is also minimal, he now has to choose: embrace the Dark Side, become a Sith, and use it to deflect the incoming strike, or reject it and get taken out. “I’ll never join the Dark Side!” he cries out, and gets run through with a lightsaber. This was a big moment of awesome for me, as it was for the rest of the group. “Wow! Awesome!” were the common comments.
Jedi #2 is getting badly beaten by the Big Bad, but turns desperately to Sith B. “I can feel the conflict within you,” he says, “these children will suffer horribly if you don’t save them. You want to save them, I know you do.” Sith B replies that it’s for the greater good, fewer will suffer in the long run if the Empire maintains the correct order, but his resolve is clearly weakening. Jedi #2 gets wounded again by the Big Bad and collapses to the ground, on his last legs. He rolls well, however, and Sith B turns. Together, the two of them beat Big Bad Sith back. Jedi #3 cuts down her opponent with some lucky rolls, and together the three of them defeat the Big Bad. Force Healing saves Jedi #1 from the brink of death, but he’s changed and marred by the experience (his player has to pick a new flaw). In short order they free all the kids and escape the Imperial base. Roll credits.
For me, these final conflicts were the most interesting: the characters were put under tremendous pressure, and we got to see how they responded, who they really were and wanted to be. This part of the session was also relatively easy to do as GM: I looked over the PCs’ background tragedies, and thought about how a Sith would use them to corrupt the Jedi. I also found this fun (maybe I’m revealing my inner Sith nature?). I also got to make up interesting reasons for why these Sith chose the Dark Side, so they weren’t just generic mooks. The players all expressed their happiness with the session as well, and there was universal agreement that this was better than any of the prequels :)
As always, I’m looking for ways to do things better, and to understand why what worked did and why what didn’t work didn’t. I’m especially interested in understanding how things might be different if I’d adopted more of a Bangy style instead. I was originally going to contrast this session with what I do during my D&D 5E campaign, but this is a bit long so I’d better do that in a comment or a separate post. Anyway, I’m interested in whatever observations or analyses you all have.