THE VERMILLION CAMPAIGN
Initially presented in Galaxy Guide 6: Tramp Freighters, the Minos Cluster was described as a remote sector of space far from the 'more important' worlds of the Imperial core. As a place for a fledgeling group of undercover Alliance agents, it sounded perfect. There were Imperials, of course—their tyranny was felt everywhere. But here, in the ass-end of space, there was a lot more 'wiggle room' than you could find elsewhere. This meant that the character's could make a few mistakes without getting trounced. It also meant they had a REAL chance to affect the course of events. In essence, the Minos Cluster was a microcosm of the Star Wars Galaxy—a small pond where the PCs could stretch their legs as small fish.
Solid (but still somewhat sketchy) information was provided for the planets in the cluster, along with its major NPCs. A rough outline of several adventures and even a campaign was provided as well. And throughout there were numerous hooks for plotlines that could be developed. Though the first couple adventures I ran for the Vermillion Campaign were modules, this was the first time I really got to pick up the ball and run with it. And boy did I. This was really a 'sandbox' era of the campaign, with a lot depending upon just what the players did or didn't do in their undercover professions as tramp freighters. I used a lot of the pre-generated NPCs, but made up a number of my own as well—Joblo the informant, Nelson Felroc, the rich (but noble) miner, Nelson Jr. His idealistic son, the nobles of Eliad (based on the noble houses from Battletech), etc.
The whole campaign built towards an open revolt in the sector—beginning with their making contact with various sympathetic cells, continuing through their liberation of a political prisoner and capture of an Imperial Frigate and culminating in an assault on the main Imperial fleet at the head of a rag-tag fleet. At one point, they even escorted Princess Leia around the cluster to help build up the resistance!
In the end, the Empire in the cluster was overthrown and decisively defeated. Being such a remote backwater (and relatively unimportant to the Empire) they took no immediate action to retake the sector (that wouldn't come until much later). So in a way, the players got to experience their characters changing the course of history for an entire sector. All very good stuff.
The fun and success of the campaign and the setting coincided a year or so later with my introduction to (and obsession with) MUSHing. For those who don't know, a MUSH (or Multi User Shared Habitat (or hallucination)) is a text based online environment where numerous people can come and interact. In our case, this interaction was gaming. Many of the Vermillion crew got into playing the original Star Wars MUSH, but after months of waiting for it to be 'finished' (i.e. have an actual game system in place), we began to look at the possibility of building our own. Luckily, Steve2 and Doyce were both computer literate enough for us to start (though Steve2 quickly proved himself to be the main coder—and the best all-around MUSH coder I've known).
We decided to set the MUSH in the time period just after the Return of the Jedi. By choosing the Minos Cluster, we figured we'd have a more 'manageable' chunk of the Galaxy to deal with and a more balanced setting where neither Empire nor Alliance (New Republic) had the upper hand (at least not initially).
Looking back on it, we were woefully unprepared. Our opening week was chaotic in the extreme. With rogue players running around stealing anything not nailed down, others attempting to slaughter people at random and still more trying to hack the code to destroy the place—simply because they could. This was a rude shock—especially from someone used to tabletop gaming. I had come to expect at least a modicum of maturity or even politeness. Not so with the online community. People seemed to take this anonymous environment as an excuse to be as big an ass as they wanted—and with (seemingly) no repercussions.
And yet somehow, we survived the deluge. The code got better and I began to really experiment with online, text-based roleplaying. On a small scale (with 1-3 other people) it was really a blast. But the larger he group, the more cumbersome the media became. Our ambitious 'mega-plots' involving fleet-scale battles were especially frustrating—with inevitable breakdowns in either the computer itself (lag) the game systems (code) or the players (logging off, being jerks, complaining, etc.).
The MUSH lasted 3+ years (as I recall) during which time the Minos Cluster setting was developed even MORE thoroughly than in the original Vermillion Campaign. It was here where I came up with the idea of the Templars and Inquisitors of Pergitor. It was here that Yelsain gained a lot of its flavor through roleplay and where the players made for some truly memorable moments, often through IC stupidity. A prime example of this was the Imperial Civil war between the Army and Navy (brought about mainly because both sides wanted to be in charge of the other). The army 'made its move' by trying to capture a grounded corvette. When the boarding failed, they decided to 'trap' it by raising the planetary shields. Unfortunately, being inside the shield meant that the corvette could bombard the Army base AND the shield generator—so not only did it escape, it left the planet open to invasion by the New Republic. Another glorious moment of stupidity took place when a disgruntled fragment of the New Republic decided to plot a coup... while on the bridge of the Fleet's flagship, in full view (and hearing) of its NPC crew.
But, for all its stupidity, there was some truly outstanding roleplay as well—a prime example being my friend Sharon and her various exploits (indeed, this MUSH spawned a campaign with her than lasted years after the place went down). My Vermillion crew were likewise responsible for moments of awesome. Steve2 and Lee spring to mind here, in their roles as Dark Jedi villains. There were a few other stand-outs as well (Hollifeld, for instance) but alas, the fickle social aspects of this kind of gaming wound up souring me on most people.
And so, when the MUSH finally developed an incurable corruption after all those years, part of me was actually glad. For all the good times, there were lots of bad. I would continue to MUSH for quite a while after Minos Cluster, but eventually, the grind of having to deal with mean-spirited people soured me to the whole thing. I am officially DONE MUSHing, but Minos Cluster will always stand as a landmark in my gaming history—and did more than any campaign to deepen the setting.
A couple years ago I caught the gaming bug—specifically the Star Wars bug. Luckily for me, Sharon and her husband Philip were willing to indulge. And so we embarked on a campaign with their two characters. While this campaign was completely unrelated to the Vermillion or online one, the influences of both those things were in full effect. In a way, it was like coming home. I had internalized so much of the setting that I didn't need to refer to anything to run it—from settings to NPCs to plots and events, I felt like I was in my element. And even though I had run this before, the styles of Philip and Sharon assured that this was anything BUT a repeat of past experience. We came to jokingly refer to the game as "The M.C." (a parody of the young-adult drama "The O.C."), due to the various romantic entanglements both characters got wound up in. Though the campaign only lasted a half-year, it was great fun for me—and I think for my players, too.
In any case, I think I'm done blathering. Suffice it to say I will, through all these experiences, always hold a special place in my heart for the Minos Cluster—in all its incarnations.
p.s. If Forge or Tsijin are reading this—I still hate you guys.