Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Campaign Types

I have actually run several different Star Wars campaigns during my career as a GM in college and beyond. The Vermillion campaign was by far the most long-lived for various reasons, but I 'dabbled' with a few other types and group configurations, too. This posting concerns what I see as the major campaign types—both ones I have used and ones that are presented or suggested in the various sourcebooks. So, without further ado, here are the Star Wars campaign categories and my thoughts on them:

This is the campaign that the original RPG assumes that most players will experience. Set during the Rebellion (usually starting right after the battle of Yavin), the players assume the role of agents of the Alliance, fighting the good fight against the evil Empire. Almost all of the original D6 gaming modules and supplements are geared around this type of campaign. While it might seem a bit rigid at first (forcing the players to work within the organization of the Alliance), this setting actually allows for very diverse character backgrounds and gives individual teams of Rebel agents a lot of freedom and autonomy. Afterall, the Alliance is (at best) an 'irregular' military organization. Smugglers, Outlaws, Idealists, Soldiers, Wookiees, Ex-Imperials, Kid-Mascots, Alien Students of the Force—pretty much anything goes. The Vermillion campaign was (and is) a 'Classic' campaign like this. It is my favorite type of campaign, mainly because I enjoy running stuff for the 'good guys' and because it parallels the heroes from the movies.

I actually ran a couple of this type of campaign—where the players are the crew of a ship and earn their living through freight-hauling (legal or illegal). Like the 'Classic' campaign, the type of character allowed in the Smuggler campaign is wide open—just so long as you have at least one person who can fly the ship and one who can fix it. Unlike the classic campaign, smugglers don't have as much support from the RPG source books. There are a few really good supporting materials (Galaxy Guide 6: Tramp Freighters, Platt's Smuggler's Guide, Politics of Contraband, etc.) but most of the modules are really geared towards Rebel characters, or at the very least, Rebel sympathetic characters. The campaigns I have run in this style have all degenerated. Mostly, I imagine, due to my own dislike. I just can't get into characters who's main motivations are money. Plus, in Star Wars, smugglers are going to cross the Empire at some point, so it seems almost a waste of time for them not to just throw their lot in with the Rebellion. Still, for the GM who likes this sort of things, and for players who enjoy less altruistic RP...well, you could do worse than this.

Being a huge fan of Rangers from D&D and of exploration in general, I am enamored of this kind of campaign. It is actually not much different than a smuggler campaign, only you get paid by exploration rather than cargo hauling. You're likely to have a lot of run-ins with evil Imperial and corporate scouts as well as underworld types (pirates, smugglers, etc.) but you also throw unknown alien species and untamed worlds into the mix. The problems I see with this campaign are: 1) Lack of supporting materials (only Galaxy Guide 8: Scouts deals with this directly) and 2) It strays a bit from the overall Star Wars 'feel', with characters operating on the fringes of what is going on rather than being immersed in them. I have never run a scout campaign, but I'm thinking if I did, it would either be in the pre-Rebellion or New Republic eras. The Darkstryder Campaign got me really thinking about this—perhaps even basing a campaign of this sort on a larger ship (corvette) and maybe even giving it a more 'Star Trekkie' feeling.

I'm betting this would be a popular campaign type with a lot of of players. And I know I don't mind dabbling with bounty hunting in the scope of a larger 'Classic' campaign, but overall I think it is rather limited, and in the Imperial era especially it strays into ground that I really do not enjoy: That of running a villain campaign. Though I imagine there would be variety in the types of hunter, most characters would be combat oriented, and as such, it could be a bit more limiting of character concepts. There are several books that would support this kind of campaign: Wanted by Cracken, Galaxy Guide 10: Bounty Hunters, No Disintigrations, etc. But again, it's limited.

Much like the smuggler campaign, only with a larger ship and larger crew. There would be the same kind of limitations and problems, though. Either your characters are Rebel sympathetic and 'honorable' (in which case, it would really be more of a 'Classic' style) or they're scum who raid anyone (in which case they turn into villains). I suppose you could try to maintain a 'neutral' outlook, but again, you're going to be hounded by the Empire anyway, so why not have the support of Rebels. The Pirates and Privateers Sourcebook would be essential for this type of campaign, and in fact, there is a whole book centered around a pirate campaign: The Far Orbit Project. So actually, there is some game support here.

This is one of the most problematic campaign types in my opinion. Simply said: I do not like running the bad guys. I can't sympathize with them. Hence, I lose interest in campaigns where the characters are the villains. Some might argue that the players could be 'good' Imperials, but I think the movies make it quite clear that the Empire itself is a bad thing, and any 'Good Guys' working for them would eventually be faced with the fact that they are working for the bad guys. At this point, the characters would have to make the choice to keep going (hence becoming true villains) or to make a stand (whereby they would be branded traitors and 'rebels'). Again, this seems to be limited as a campaign, though it could be interesting if used as an introduction to a Classic (or some other) style.

Another 'villain' campaign that comes with all the problems associated with it. It is even more villainous than the Imperial campaign because Sith CANNOT be honorable or 'good' in any form and still call themselves Sith. I can't imagine running a campaign like this, even though they outline one in the Dark Side sourcebook for the D20 Star Wars Game. I imagine it would turn into something akin to a game of Paranoia (i.e. players backstabbing the hell out of each other) only without the humor.

Looking back at my previous posts, I think you'll see I'm rather biased against the prequel trilogy. It isn't my cup of tea. But honestly? A campaign set during this era could be interesting. You won't have a lot of source material to go on from the D6 side, but the D20 system has a lot of information (though not as many ready-made adventures). 

If I was going to run any other era of Star Wars, I am pretty sure it would be KotOR. I loved the games (especially the first one) and the setting is so far removed from the movies as to be an open slate. This is a double-edged sword, though. Using any existing campaign material would require heavy modification and (apart from the KotOR sourcebook) there isn't any supporting gaming material. 

In reading this post you may note that a put a lot of emphasis on using existing/supporting gaming material. This isn't because I lack the ability to come up with adventures of my own. I am quite capable in that regard. But it can be a lot of work, especially now that I have a job and a 'real' life. Therefore, pre-made adventures help you flesh-out a campaign without the huge workload. They also provide springboard ideas for other adventures which you can develop on your own.

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