Thursday, September 30, 2010

It isn't always about the Jedi

...or at least it shouldn't be.

Growing up with the Original Trilogy gives me (and my contemporaries) a unique perspective on that universe. Even though Luke Skywalker was the main 'hero' of the series, the focus wasn't entirely on the Jedi. At least not in my mind. To me, Star Wars was about adventures in space first and the Force second. The adventures and development of Han Solo and Leia (neither of whom were Force users in the movies) seemed just as important a part of the Saga as Luke's 'Hero's Journey'. Heck, in grade school everyone always wanted to be Han Solo or Chewbacca, never Luke.

This attitude seemed to be reflected in the various incarnations of the universe present from the 70's on through the 90's. In the comics we see entire story arcs that have nothing to do with the Jedi. In fact, Luke isn't the main character in quite a few of these adventures. Cartoon series like "Droids" didn't have any Jedi in them, just a series of unique protagonists (A merchant freighter captain, a team of speeder racers ,etc.). Likewise, the Han Solo trilogy of novels had nothing to do with the Force or Jedi whatsoever. Even video games didn't dwell on the Jedi. X-Wing and TIE fighter, Rogue Squadron- they were all about 'normal' pilots, fighting in the war. Dark Forces was probably the first game to really incorporate the Jedi into it, with the protagonist Kyle Katarn developing Force skills later in the game.

So for a while there, blasters and spaceships, smugglers and droids were just as important as 'symbols' of the universe as Jedi or Sith. But it didn't last.

The shift to a more Jedi-Focused universe began (in my opinion) with the Thrawn novels and the popularity of Mara Jade. But to their credit, the Thrawn novels didn't focus entirely on Force users. It merely showed how they work into a larger plot that involves quite a few interesting non-Force folks (Thrawn, Senator Garm Bel Iblis, etc.). Even so, by introducing new Force users these books opened the floodgates (so to speak) for what was to come.

With the release of Episode I and its depictions of Jedi as absolute badasses ("there are two of them. We will not survive this"), it seemed to me like a shift had occurred. Suddenly every novel or comic or game was about a Force user. The ones from the movies, or other inventions. In some cases, this led to some truly wonderful things- like the Knights of the Old Republic series. In other cases, it led to the truly horrific- like Callista from the Children of the Jedi series. But good or bad, the whole feel of the universe had definitely changed. For proof of this, you have to look no farther than the protagonists and antagonists of the Prequel trilogy. All of them are Jedi or Sith, and those who aren't are minor background characters. There are no 'cool' non-Force users, unless you count Jango Fett, but even he died like a bitch at the hands of a Jedi. There is no Han Solo in the prequels. And because of that, you get the impression that only the Jedi (or Sith) can bring about galaxy-changing events. This impression never sat well with me, mainly because of my own impressions of the Star Wars that I grew up with.

It is also a bit insulting to the legions of 'normal soldiers' who fought the wars that everyone seems to be giving the Jedi and Sith credit for. Yeah. Luke and Vader may have taken down the Emperor, but it was a group of 'normal' soldiers and pilots- working together- that destroyed the Death Star. Revan may have been redeemed and able to topple Malak, but he wouldn't have made it that far without Carth, Mission, Zaalbar and the rest.

For me, there is a parallel between Force users and Superheroes. Some of the most popular superheroes are the really powerful ones. Superman, Wonder-Woman, the Hulk, even Wolverine. All of them are (like the Jedi from the prequels) complete badasses. I can see the appeal of that sort of thing. But in comics, we also have a slew of 'normal' people who are just as important as these ultra-powerful types. Batman, Captain America, Iron Man, even the Punisher. These are just 'normal' people (albeit highly intelligent, trained and skilled). But they are treated as being just as important. There is an emphasis that super-powers alone do not make a person great. That is something I felt was lacking in the prequel trilogies- and in a lot of the emerging expanded universe stuff. Only Jedi seem to make a difference. They aren't 'part of a solution', they're THE ONLY solution.

Since I started my campaign before the "Great Jedi Love Fest", most of my players chose to play non-Force users. In fact, there was a short period where we had no Force users in the party at all! I'm not sure that would be the same in any more 'modern' gaming group. Afterall, Force users get all kinds of special abilities with little or no drawback (unless, of course, you pay attention to things like the Jedi Code or the Sith tendency to get really ugly). In what meager information I get about other people's campaigns (plucked from blogs and forums around the interweb), it seems to me that many Star Wars gaming groups (d20 or d6) have quite a few Force users knocking around in them. While I have no problem with running a game like that, it still strikes me as a little sad to not have any cool 'normal' characters in the mix- not as sidekicks, but as heroes in their own right. It just doesn't feel like Star Wars if you don't have those. At least it doesn't to me. So, like I said, in my book it shouldn't always be about the Jedi. They're PART of a wonderful adventurous universe. But they aren't the end all of that setting.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Force Using Organizations

This is just a little post to show that even though my blogging is sporadic, I am still cranking away on my Star Wars gaming source book thing. I have posted a section of it on mediafire in pdf format. If anyone is interested in downloading it, the link is here:

This particular snippet is part of my 'organizations of the galaxy' section. In particular, it details some of the non-Jedi Force traditions in the Star Wars galaxy. Keep in mind that as with all materials I am producing, this is my personal take on things, not the exact 'canon' as presented by other sources.

Please let me know what you think about the format and content. Thanks!

Monday, September 27, 2010

Top Ten Star Wars Fighters

Yet another in my blatant attempts to give the public what it wants. No. Not more 'Star Wars Babes', rather, more top ten lists! So here we are. Admittedly this (like all other top ten lists) is highly subjective, but I will give reasons for my decisions on each. So here we go:

10. TIE Bomber
It may not be pretty. It may not be glamorous. But it gets the job done. You only really see any of these in the Empire Strike's back. And there, we see them randomly bombing asteroids to try and flush out the hidden Millennium Falcon. But this fighter earns points with me for feeling as though it is part of a 'family' of vehicles. So often in movies, every vehicle you see is completely unique in design. While this can be cool, I find that a group of vehicles that all share a common 'look' helps to make the Empire feel more unified and 'real'- and monolithic. They go for homogenous legions of troopers. Why not the same thing in space.

9. Vulture

The droid starfighter. I never understood the point of this fighter being able to transform into a 'walker'. Seriously. Why did it have to do that? It was made all the more stupid by the fact that when in 'walk mode' it was essentially walking on its weapons- i.e. they were pointing down and not usable. Meh. That having been said, I liked the compact and aggressive look of the fighters. And in space at least they looked like they could get the job done.

8. Naboo N-1
They were elegant. They had chrome finish. They had a droid socket. All plusses in my book. They were also grossly overmatched in a standup fight, both in terms of numbers and seemingly firepower. But then, that was part of the story that they helped to reinforce. These were patrol craft and interceptors, designed to provide security for a peaceful planet. They weren't designed to attack capital starship fleets-and it showed. They very neatly symbolized the 'more civilized' time of the Old Republic that was coming to an end.

7. TIE Fighter
The Symbol of the Empire and one of the most original and distinctive starfighter designs ever. These weren't just rockets with fins or airplanes in space. They were something completely different and something that set the tone for many designs to come. So they weren't entirely effective against Rebel ships on a one-on-one basis. So what? They Empire had a lot of them- once again reinforcing the faceless legion aspect of that philosophy. It was the obedient collective that would triumph over the individual.

6. Delta-7
The Jedi Starfighter as presented in Episode II. Tiny flying triangles. They looked fast and aggressive, but at the same time fragile. Again, I think there was symbolism at work here. Like the lightsaber, these were an elegant and precise weapon to be wielded by the Jedi. And like the Jedi themselves, they were a peacetime design, intended for peacekeeping duties, not the front-line rigors of all out war.

5. ARC-170
A beast of a starfighter seen only briefly in Episode III. I LOVE the look of the ARC. It alludes to the X-Wing design that would evolve from it, but at the same time has an antique World War II bomber vibe to it, what with the big bubble cockpits, multiple crew and a tail gunner! Sweet. Not surprisingly, there is more symbolism here. This is a craft built for war. Big and brutal. It shows how far the Republic has come (how far it has fallen?) from its peaceful pre-war days to the increasingly desperate fighting at the end of the Clone Wars. Unfortunately, in the movies we see that even something as badass looking as this can be taken out by hordes of droid fighters.

4. Y-Wing
I have a soft spot for the underdog. And the Y-Wing qualifies as that. In the movies, these craft just look... old. Old and beat up. And yet they fly out to do battle. You also have to give some respect that these bombers were the first given the task of blowing up the Death Star. That shows quite a bit of trust put in them by the Alliance tacticians. To me, these craft just look the part. A warhorse- albeit a warhorse that is past its prime.

3. TIE Interceptor
You really only get a few glimpses of these in Return of the Jedi, in the final space battle at Endor. I love them for the same reasons I love the TIE Fighter and Bomber. The Interceptor looks like part of a family. In this case, its an evolution of the family. The dagger-point wings give it a distinctly more aggressive look than the standard TIE. Even so, in action we see quite a few of these get toasted by the Rebels. Wedge in particular doesn't seem to have much problem with them. But then, Wedge rules.

2. A-Wing
Another design introduced in Return of the Jedi, the A-Wing hearkens back to the look of the Jedi Delta-7 in my mind, though instead of a triangle, its more of a wedge shape with fins. It just looks fast and maneuverable, and it is shown to be so in the movies. I like compact fighter designs like this and the A-Wing feels 'just big enough' to do what it is shown doing (unlike some other fighters I will mention later). The fighter also has the distinction of being the design that took down a Super Star Destroyer by ramming the bridge. Very David and Goliath.

1. X-Wing
The classic that I will forever be in love with. The X-Wing looks tough and elegant at the same time. It has a droid socket (which I love). It can 'transform' from cruising mode to fighting mode. In the movies it is shown to be (with a skilled pilot at the controls) the match for anything else in space (except perhaps a Dark Lord of the Sith). It is just awesome. I guess that's why I get irrationally ticked off when folks try to 'replace' it with things like the E-Wing. But then they designed a better version of it (the XJ) and now I am happy again.

So there you have it. My top ten fighter. But before I go, I want to talk about a couple that were at the bottom of my list, and why they wound up there.

This was the Jedi Starfighter shown in Episode III. In appearance, it was kind of the midway point between the old Delta-7 starfighter and the TIE design to come in the future. For these reasons I respect the design overall. Unfortunately, to me the Eta-2 just seemed WAY too small to be as 'awesome' as they showed it in the movies. The engines were so freaking tiny.. hell, everything about it was. To me, this strained the credulity of the design. Star Wars has always felt 'functional' to me, and this seemed out of line with the rest of what we have been shown.

You only glimpse this fighter in Return of the Jedi, and even then I don't recall seeing it actually do anything. This somewhat lackluster 'first impression' wasn't helped at all by the stats the craft was given in the roleplaying game. Slow. Unmaneuverable. Lightly armored. But.. oh, it had slightly more powerful weapons than similar craft. Oh, and it was supposed to attack Capital ships directly. Well, if you played by the game rules, that was just suicide. As designs go, I guess you have to give it SOME points for creativity. I mean, it is asymmetrical and does have that whole 'body rotates around cockpit' thing going. Even so, I'm not sure this design can ever overcome the stigma attached to it in my mind. Pity really.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Top 10 Star Wars Duels

Not surprisingly for a movie series that features guys wielding laser swords, there are a lot of duels in Star Wars. But then again, not all of these even feature laser swords. Below are my top ten favorite duels (and an honorable mention).

10. Leia vs. Jabba
How does the Galaxy's most powerful crimelord go out? Choked to death by a slave princess in a Gold Bikini. You know? When I have to go out, I could think of worse ways.

9. Han vs. Boba Fett
After all the hype that had built up around Boba Fett it could not have ended any better in my book. Taken out by accident by a guy who was still half blind and didn't even realize what he was doing. The scream was nice. As was the plowing face first into the side of the sail barge and falling to your doom in the mouth of a giant sand monster. Joking aside, I really like it when movies take what you expect (a big showdown) and turn it on its ear. Raiders of the Lost Ark did this to great effect and I think this is another example of that.

8. Han vs. Vader
One of the shorter 'duels'. Han does an awesome quickdraw and manages to get off several shots- only to find it all for naught. Vader just ABSORBS the shots in his hand, then plucks the blaster away from Han without breaking a sweat. This scene does a great job of showing how good Han is, but at the same time how utterly outclassed he is. At the time it was awesome because we really never get to see Vader 'in action' all that much. He's usually just standing around menacingly or choking guys to death. Who knew he could just absorb blaster bolts!?

7. Yoda vs. Dooku
This is a controversial one. A lot of people were upset with the way Yoda was shown fighting. In the theatre a lot of people were actually laughing at this big showdown. And truthfully? I was one of them. But in this case, I was laughing WITH the movie, not at it. I mean, after all, what kind of fighting style IS a tiny dude like that going to use? Graceful and elegant just doesn't seem to work (it would take too long for him to be able to run over to an opponent). Psychotic, leapy buzz-saw? Yeah, I can believe that. There is a group of folks who think that Yoda shouldn't have been a duelist at all, that he was somehow 'above' that kind of thing. Meh. He was a Jedi knight. Jedi fight with lightsabers. It makes sense to me.

6. Obi-Wan vs. Anakin
Yeah, this one is remarkably low on the list considering what a big moment it was. This was THE fight that people had been wondering about since the first rumors of Vader's backstory began to leak out. It didn't disappoint. The duel was suitably titanic and charged with emotion and had a suitably horrific ending. But it just wasn't a 'cool' as some of the other duels- perhaps because I had built it up so much in my mind over the years that it didn't quite live up to expectations.

5. Han vs. Greedo
A short one, but an important one. I definitely like the original version better. It set the tone for Han Solo as a kind of 'grey' character in a universe of (literally) black and white. Besides, Greedo pretty much SAID he was going to kill Han. Han had every right to shoot before Greedo got the chance. I loved the coin flip to the bartender afterwards- sorry about the mess.

4. Jango vs. Obi-Wan
I loved this showdown and I imagine a lot of fanboys did as well. Here we finally get the scene they had been clamoring for since Boba's ignominious 'death' in Return of the Jedi. A knock-down, drag-out fight between a Jedi and a Mandalorian warrior. It did not disappoint. The duel as a whole did a great job of portraying just how badass BOTH combatants were. On the one hand, you have Jango using every weapon and dirty trick at his disposal- along with a lot of just flat-out guts and cleverness. And on the other you have an experienced Jedi Knight being pushed to his limits by a 'normal' person (albeit a normal person with rockets, flamethrowers, blades, tangle-wire, jetpack, etc.). To me I liked that it pointed out that however badass Jedi may be, they aren't invincible. This was important foreshadowing for events to come.

3. Yoda vs. Palpatine
I had always wondered if this duel ever took place. In the original trilogy, we see that Yoda is a very powerful Jedi. One of my first thoughts was "Why didn't he try to stop the Emperor?" Well here the answer is revealed: He did try. And he failed. THAT really drove home to me the power the Emperor wielded. Sure, Yoda knocked him on his ass a few times (literally), but the Sith Lord was just too much to overcome. Seeing Yoda scrabbling woundedly through the air ducts to escape was the culminating moment of the Jedi's fall from power. The good guys had truly lost.

2. Luke vs. Vader (on Bespin)
This duel had a huge impact on me as a 10 year old boy. Up until now I'd only really been exposed to stories where the 'good guys won'. I was shocked earlier in the movie when Luke seemed to be failing at his training and then came this fight. Whuf. It did a great job of setting things up, though. At first, Luke seems almost able to hold his own. In fact, early in the fight he displays some pretty cool moves (at the time at least). But slowly, Vader just pours on more and more of his own power. He wasn't just out to 'beat' Luke, he wanted to impress upon him just how outclassed he was. And wow, did he succeed. To his credit, Luke never gave up. He even managed to land a lucky blow. But then? Off came the hand. And moments later, the revelation that turned the saga (and Luke's psyche) on its ear. Yeah. Truly memorable.

1. Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan vs. Maul
For all the faults in Episode I. All the things I didn't like. This was the one thing they did right- at least up until the very last blow of the duel. These were not the Jedi of my youth. Here was have an incredible duel with flips and leaps and moves so quick you could hardly see them. Add to this the 'Duel of the Fates' music and wow. I still get chills thinking about this duel. The fight choreography was nothing short of awesome. In my book, this is probably the best duel of all time. Unfortunately, there is one thing that sours it. The way Maul died just didn't fit with the rest of the duel. It seemed as though they just 'stopped' the choreography and tacked on this arbitrary ending. I know I or about a million fanboys could have come up with a better ending than what was done.

There they are. The top ten duels in Star wars. But before I go, there is one honorable mention:

R2 vs. Yoda
This scene still makes me giggle. Yoda, who has not yet revealed himself as a Jedi master, starts tearing apart Luke's camp site on Dagobah. R2 takes it upon himself to take back a lamp that Yoda had 'acquired'. The two get into a 'fight', with R2's claw clamped on the item, trying to pull it back and yoda wailing on the droid's head with his walking stick screaming "Mine! Mine!". Heheee. Nice.

Monday, September 20, 2010


It should really come as no surprise to me, but you gotta love the internet. Take a wild guess at what is (by far) the most popular post on my blog(according to the built in blogger analytics thing)? Give up? Well, it has to do with a Gold Bikini. Yep. You guessed it. It's this post.

And after that, overall, the 'Top 10' posts seem to be the most popular. Interesting.

Magic Items in Star Wars

One of the things I dislike about the D20 Star Wars system— and one of the reasons it feels too much like D&D in space to me— is the whole 'items that give you bonuses' thing. Admittedly, this was more prevalent in the d20-based Star Wars video games (like Knights of the Old Republic) than in the tabletop game (from what I've seen).

Yes, I understand that some weapons and equipment would give you a benefit over others. Some things are just better made. A bonus to damage or accuracy or even a little boost to a skill. These are all things I have no problem with. It makes sense in a realistic and cinematic sense.

What I object to are items that give a bonus to something more metaphysical in nature. Like a headband that gives you a bonus to 'wisdom' or a set of robes that gives you a bonus to your Force skills. Especially if said items are 'stock' items. It isn't just one legendary HEADPIECE OF WISDOM.. its a.. headband that a whole order of Force users wore. It isn't a special set of robes infused with Force focusing crystals, its...just clothing that a particular group wore. Not only does it 'magically' give you a bonus, it is also a relatively common thing that someone, at some point, was mass producing. Even if you buy into the 'magic' aspect of it it becomes less so when it is just one of many, not a unique thing. Well, at least it does to me.

Yes, I realize that the Force is the Star Wars equivalent of Magic. But I prefer my magic to be more...well...magical. If it comes pre-packaged in numerous, interchangeable items then it feels to me like just some other kind of energy to be bought, sold, stored and used. It loses the metaphysical nature that I associate with the Force. Of course, George Lucas can be partially blamed for this, by officially reducing what was once an 'Energy Field that Surrounds All Things" to the emanations of a bunch of microscopic organisms living in the blood of a few specific individuals. Bleh.

In any case, I do not allow 'magic items' in my campaign- at least not of this commonplace nature. In fact, I can think of only two items I've ever really used. One was the Kaiburr Crystal (from the Novel The Splinter of the Minds Eye). What this artifact did was give a bonus to a Force user's power (I believe I did something like it gave the wielder a +1D across the board on Control, Sense and Alter). But this was a unique item. And one so treasured that it was usually kept locked up and secure until it was REALLY needed. Another was something of my own creation- the Darksaber. This was a lightsaber infused with the spirits of several Sith lords. It existed as a means of drawing others to the darkside. Yes, it gave all kinds of bonuses to those who used it (again, I think it was a +1D across the board, though I don't remember). But it also gave the user Dark Side points over time. And best of all, once the user was completely consumed, it no longer gave most of those benefits. The Dark Side is a tease like that- promising all kinds of power, but once it has you? Well, its content to leave you to your own devices.

So there you have it. I don't much care for +1 Lightsabers or Robes of Charisma +2 in my Star Wars campaign. Give me a few powerful artifacts with unique angles on them and I'm much more happy.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Using Your Environment

What I am talking about here is that sometimes players don't think beyond the limitations of the 'stats' they see in front of them. An example of this would be a relatively 'low powered' party suddenly faced with having to take on a creature (or starship, or whatever) that is vastly more powerful than they are, stats wise. If they were to go toe-to-toe with the thing, they'd lose. So, what is the option? run away? Kamikaze attack? Sure, you could do either of those, but those aren't necessarily the ONLY options. Or rather, they shouldn't be.

As a game master, I love it when players come up with an 'out of the box' idea- one that doesn't revolve around their stats or skills or equipment. In a game- as in any good dramatic media- there should be room for improvisation and just plain clever thinking. You see it all the time in movies and books. The hero will find some unorthodox way to win against impossible odds. And yet in games, it seems to me that players sometimes get so boxed in by stats that they don't try these things as often as they could.

In a superhero game, for instance, one of your people goes up against a 'brick'. A villain who is so tough that pretty much any attack thrown at him does no damage. A player might cry foul to his GM for putting him in an unwinnable situation. But a clever player will quickly realize when the 'standard stuff' isn't working and look for some other way.

In a mini-campaign I ran, one of my players faced this very situation. Sharon was running a modified version of Spider Girl. Modified in that she wasn't QUITE as strong as the 'real' spidey. So it was that when she was faced with a brick (Rhino), her normal attacks weren't doing it. When she realized this, she began to look around for something else. Yes, there. That huge electrical junction box. Some acrobatic leaps and taunting later and she had Rhino charging right at her- at which point she lept out of the way and he plowed- horn first- into a lot of electricity. Down he went. I loved that maneuver. It was very 'comic book', but very plausible at the same time. I loved it- and I would encourage it in any player. Look around, think creatively.

On the flip-side, however, as a GM you should only try to reward good (smart) or dramatic (fun) ideas— and only when they're 'fresh'. Otherwise you might fall into a situation where players start to rely upon some MacGuffin to always appear suddenly to solve their problems. For instance, every time they face a 'Brick' they'll start to look for the huge electrical junction box. If the technique becomes 'routine' then its no longer fun or special. I am a firm believer in giving any plan a chance at success, even the 'wacky' ones, but keep in mind that a 'chance' means just that. No plan should be guaranteed every time its used.

Anyway, it was just a random thought. Back to work.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Elite Military Units in the Star Wars Universe

Though there is a lot I dislike about the Expanded Universe of Star Wars, there are some things that I find pretty darn cool. Among these are the the various Elite military units that have sprung up from various sources. These have a real-world precedent in things like the “Flying Tigers”, “Black Sheep Squadron” and “Merrill’s Marauders”. These, in turn, were the inspiration for a lot of unit names in some of my other favorite games (Battletech, for instance). Below are just a few of the most famous (and fun) elite military units in the Star Wars galaxy- including a couple of my own.

Rogue Squadron
Though mentioned only briefly in the movies (the name only appeared during the Battle of Hoth in the Empire Strikes Back), Rogue Squadron is probably the most well known elite unit in the Star Wars universe. It is a fighter squadron in the Rebel Alliance (and later New Republic). Though growing from rather modest beginnings, Rogue Squadron became the (according to the novels at least) one of the best units in the Galaxy- respected by friends, feared by enemies. The name is just awesome, as is the fact that the whole thing is lead by my favorite supporting character of all time: Wedge Antilles. And no, I don’t want to discuss ‘Corran Horn’. Ugh.

181st Imperial Fighter Wing
Okay, so maybe the name isn’t as catchy as ‘Rogue Squadron’, but every good unit needs a rival, and this is about the closest thing to a match that the Empire has for the Rogues. Led by Baron Fel (the Star Wars equivalent of the Red Baron), this squadron began as a kind of ‘dumping ground’ for the empire- and was unofficially known as the “One-Eighty-Worst”. All of that changed when Fel was put in command. Though I am all in favor of the Empire being truly ‘evil’, it does help to put a ‘human’ and even ‘cool’ face on it. The 181st does that— showing that, while evil, the Empire does have ‘good people’ in it who are just misguided. It makes the situation all the more tragic. Of course Fel eventually defects to the New Republic, but the concept of the 181st is still very cool.

Thundering Herd
The name isn’t terribly impressive (the term ‘herd’ doesn’t sound particularly aggressive), but the idea of an elite AT-AT walker unit under command of General Maximillian Veers is just badass. Veers was another ‘hero’ of mine in the movies- the only competent Imperial Officer we really see on screen.

501st Legion “Vader’s Fist”
All jokes about the ‘fist’ part aside, the 501st has grown literally to cult status in the real world. It has an entire organization of people who dress up and make appearances at local events. This makes it a lot of fun in my book. In the Star Wars universe itself, it is cool to think that there are a few units among the ‘faceless’ legions of the Empire that stand above the rest. This one, apparently populated by clone veterans of the Clone Wars (redundant, I know), is one such unit. The battle-history of the unit was explored in the Star Wars battlefront games and includes the attack on the Jedi Temple on Coruscant. Talk about a ‘history’. Whuf. Kind of dark, but cool.

Legion of Alderaan
This is an elite and highly motivated combat unit in the Rebel Alliance Army. It is comprised of soldiers drawn exclusively from natives of Alderaan who were off-world at the time of that planet’s destruction. Though little is said of this unit ‘officially’, I loved the idea of it. The last sons (and daughters) of a dead world, fighting to prevent other planets from sharing the same fate. Great drama and an awesomely idealistic and fatalistic story hook.

105th Company “Emperor’s Irregulars”
This was unit introduced in the West End Games (wEG) book “Wretched Hives of Scum and Villainy”. Essentially, it is a unit of Stormtroopers stationed in a complete backwater. It isn’t clear if they became ‘odd’ by being stationed here or if they were stationed here because they were ‘odd’. But in any case, the deal with these guys is that they’re a bit crazy. A whole Company of Stormtroopers with mental problems. They’re loyal to the Emperor, they’re more skilled than the average trooper, but they’re… just a bit ‘off’. This is reflected in their personalized armor and somewhat crazed commander.

Laramus Base Irregulars
This was a Mercenary outfit first described in WEG’s Galaxy Guide 9: Fragments from the Rim. Here you have a group of beings who tend to accept ‘impossible’ missions- and expect to take a high number of casualties doing so. What kind of people would do this? Why… crazy people, of course. Or those with nothing to lose. You’ll find both kinds in this unit. Though they sell their services to most anyone, the Irregulars tend to have Rebel sympathies (which makes them all the more endearing in my eyes).

Hell’s Hammers
An elite repulsorlift Armored unit in the Imperial Army- first introduced in the Imperial Sourcebook by West End Games (wEG). This is an example of adding color and a ‘face’ to an otherwise faceless Imperial war machine. This is a unit of soldiers who AREN’T stormtroopers and don’t exactly fit the mold of the Imperial military- using unorthodox tactics and pure fighting spirit. As such, they present a quandary to the Empire. On the one hand, they appreciate the fighting prowess of the unit, on the other hand, the ‘individual’ nature of the Hammers goes against the homogenized nature of the Empire and its emphasis on the strength of the collective rather than the individual. This paradox is explored in the slim information we’re given on the unit. Evidently the Empire uses them a lot, but also shows them little respect or support- likely because they just don’t know what to do with them.

Scimitar Wing
This is another West End Games invention- an Imperial Fighter squadron specializing in precision bombing. As such, they make use of TIE Bombers. What I found really cool about them was the fact that they were likely the basis for the name of the Empire’s new and improved bomber, the Scimitar. It is a nice little homage that helps give backstory (and color) to the Empire as a whole.

Aggressor Wing
Though not on the ‘same level’ as the Rogues, this unit of Y-Wing fighter/bombers was a premier outfit in the years following the Battle of Endor. I like the fact that this squadron isn’t glamorous at all. They’re led by a big, bull-headed guy (Colonel Horton Salm) and have a very ‘workmanlike’ vibe. While the Rogues get all the glory, Aggressor wing does all the ‘dirty work’. I can appreciate this kind of an attitude and its nice to have such a ‘hook’ for the unit, it helps set it apart from all the other “Rogue” copycats that followed (i.e. Knave Squadron… seriously? Were you just going through a thesaurus for other words for Rogue? How original).

The Knights
The original idea for this unit came from another WEG product- fragments from the Rim. There, they detail a Swoop (biker) gang led by a Force Sensitive young man who believes in the ideals of the Jedi Knights (hence the name of the gang: the Knights). Unlike other swoop gangs, the Knights try to help people out. In my own game, this eventually resulted in them being recruited by the Rebellion. There, they became an elite Repulsorlift cavalry unit. There is a lot of symbolism to go with that. Honorable warriors riding into battle atop trusty steeds. All they need are some power-lances.. yeah. Power lances.

The Yelsainian Cavalry
I wrote about this in a previous post, so I won’t go into it here. It’s an invention of mine. Basically imagine a unit of speeder-bike/swoop cavalry with a ‘western’ motif, complete with spurs, sabers, bugles and wide-brimmed hats.

Wild Card Squadron (aka Wild Card Aces)
This was an invention of mine. In my current campaign, I stole several story elements from the whole ‘Vong Invasion’ story. One of these was the Starfighter racing circuit going on- I believe it was in the Dubrillion system…or something. Whatever the case may be, the premise is this. Lando, in another of his entrepreneurial developments, is developing a racing circuit based upon ‘souped up’ Starfighters. This makes sense to me. Afterall, in the post-war era, there would likely be a lot of these ‘surplus’ fighters to be found (aka salvaged) and used in something like this. Well, when the Aliens attacked, Lando found himself near ground zero again. Though he had retired his commission (again), he managed to talk a fair number of his racers into re-arming their race craft and joining him in helping the New Republic hold off the invasion. This mis-matched and rag-tag group made quite a name for themselves in the early days of the war. Those who survived formed the core of a semi-mercenary squadron (known as the wild-cards). They fill their ranks from a lot of ex-military or underworld pilots and fly all manner of craft, from tiny Delta-7’s to Skipray Blastboats. Their unorthodox composition and pilot roster have earned them the ‘Wild Card’ name. The enemy never knows quite what to expect.

Katarn Commandos
This is a group of commandos ‘descended’ from the Endor Strike team and headed up by a veteran of that mission- Lieutenant Page. The unit (and Page) were first introduced in the Heir to the Empire series. I like the fact that they have roots in the trilogy, despite the fact that they were first ‘really’ organized during the New Republic era. Page himself is an interesting character- completely low key- a seeming ‘background’ character, only exceedingly competent and dangerous. I wonder now if that isn’t some kind of an ‘in joke’ the writer intended based upon the fact that he was just a ‘background’ character in Return of the Jedi. But no… I’m probably the only one who puts that much thought into these things.

The list goes on, but I’ll cut it here. And in case you’re wondering, this post was inspired by the fact that I’ve started working on another section of my sourcebook- Organizations of the Galaxy! These are just a few of the units I intend to include in this. I feel that things like this add a lot of flavor to any gaming campaign and can serve as a model or inspiration for player-developed units during the game. They also make great NPCs to run into or occasionally team up with (or maybe even be rivals with?). And honestly, when you look at these, you should realize that in the greater scheme of things, they’re just a drop in the bucket, a few thousand soldiers in a galaxy with billions. Plenty of room to make your own.

Friday, September 10, 2010

The Redemption of Anakin Skywalker

For me, Star Wars used to be the story of Luke Skywalker and his hero's journey from a simply farmboy to a Jedi Knight and champion of good. It was about his struggle with tyranny and his own shortcomings. It was about the finding of a lost family and, yes, the redemption of his father. This whole arc made the original trilogy feel very 'complete' to me.

And then the prequels were released and it changed everything. Taken as a whole, the story is NOT about Luke's journey, it is all about Anakin Skywalker. His rise to power. His fall from grace. His corruption and his final redemption. This shift in focus was, for me, a bit jarring at first. I mean, it changes the skew of ALL the movies, even one's that I had 'lived with' for most of my life.

I've made no secret of the fact that I have a love/hate relationship with the prequels. And during my 'hater' periods I have always felt a bit 'cheated' by the shift in focus, especially because it raises the question of whether or not Anakin really deserved to be redeemed- or rather, whether it was possible for him. That is a pretty deep question when you think about it.

Though I personally believe in redemption (especially as it applies to spiritual redemption), there are things that a person can do that, to me, are irredeemable. Or at least seem to be. Anakin Skywalker is guilty of a lot of these things. In Episode II, the scene where he kills an entire village of Sandpeople is almost played off as being somewhat 'justified'. Afterall, they did kidnap and kill his mother. Padme certainly doesn't seem to have a problem with it. She just hugs 'poor Anakin' after he informs her he slaughtered women and children. It was very jarring to me, since Padme had always been played as idealistic. And now she's almost saying "It's okay, they weren't humans." I'm not sure if I'm the only one who picked up on that vibe or not or if it was intended. But to me, this isnt' just a minor happening. It is a major, soul-darkening event. And even if Anakin didn't do anything else bad in his life, he would have a lot to 'answer for' with this. Yes, Sand People may be brutal (at least this particular tribe evidently was), but... the children? Unless you buy into the notion that someone can be 'corrupt' from birth then those Tusken children were innocent blood.

In Episode III I almost begin to feel for Anakin again. He's in a very tough spot, personally speaking. He's leading a double life. He gets no respect from those at his 'job'. He's in the middle of fighting a war. He's about to become a father. And then he has visions of his wife dieing? Yeesh. That is a lot to cope with. But even all of these 'extenuating circumstances' cannot justify the actions Anakin takes. Consider how many other people are involved in the war. The pressures they are facing. The loss. Does that give them the right to act with complete selfishness? No. And that is what Anakin does. He may have convinced himself that his turning to the Dark Side was 'for the good of his wife and children', but it is really so that HE will not lose what he has. And this brings me to Anakin's other unforgivable sin- the attack on the Jedi temple. This is truly his darkest moment. Slaughtering Jedi younglings? How can you /ever/ come back from something like that. It again shows Anakin's selfishness, that he would snuff out all of these lives just to protect his own family- even though he knows that his wife would not want him to do so. It is all about him, about his needs and wants- though I'm certain he continued to justify it to himself that it was 'for the good of his family'- and maybe he even bought into the whole line that it was for the good of the galaxy as well.

The slaughter of the Separatist council was bloody as well, but I still rank it as less of a 'sin' than the sack of the Jedi temple. Why? Because those he slaughtered were part of the war. Manipulated or not, they chose to wage war. Through their actions, millions died. There is a certain justification to it in that regard- though not one I necessarily condone.

After becoming Vader, Anakin continues for YEARS- killing probably hundreds personally and millions more by his orders. Yes, some may have been 'combatants' fighting in a war, but (from the stories that have been written), he was also responsible for many civilian deaths as well.

I guess the real question is, after all of that is any kind of redemption even possible?

Part of me wants to say no. To say that sinking to the depths Anakin did is unforgivable. But redemption is the central to my own belief system- and it seems to be part of Luke's as well. But even though I say that, there are people who I do believe are irredeemable. Adolph Hitler. Joseph Stalin. A slew of serial killers and child molesters. Do any of them DESERVE to be forgiven? No. No matter what the 'excuse' for their behavior, the things they did are so horrific that I can't believe they would wind up any place other than 'hell'.

And yes, I know that Star Wars is make believe. Some may think that comparing Vader to Hitler is 'wrong' on some level- but movies are (when they're good) a medium that makes us think about 'real' things, no matter how fantastical the setting. I mean the Empire had STORMTROOPERS for goodness sake. The parallel was intended and quite evidently so.

So, does Anakin 'deserve' his redemption? That is a tough question. And for me it is one with a lot of caveats.

For me, the first condition that has to be met for redemption is retribution. At some point, you have to be 'punished' for the horrible actions you took. You must 'pay the piper'. Right or wrong, this is how I feel. An evil person who lives a life of luxury only to 'repent' on their death bed just...doesn't cut it. While at first glance it may seem that Anakin doesn't ever really 'pay' for his crimes, I think that he actually did. First of all, there was the horrible mutilation of his body- and being turned into a cyborg 'monster'. Secondly, he became a pawn for a more powerful person. He wasn't 'doing his own thing' all those years, he was at the beck and call of a person who could kill him if he did not obey. Thirdly, Anakin had to live with the memories of all the horrible things he did. This may sound cliche or even a cop-out, but I think Anakin was a good enough person at heart to feel bad about what he had done- you could see it in his face when he went to kill the Younglings at the temple. It wasn't an easy thing for him to do. It probably wasn't easy to live with either. And finally: He lost his wife and his children- not due to any outside danger, but due to his own actions. His whole purpose for going to the Dark side was to save them, but in the process he caused the death of his wife and lost his unborn children. And he had to live with THAT his entire life.

The second condition to be met for redemption is honest repentance for your actions. This is where Vader seems to differ from real-world counterparts. Hitler never apologized for his actions, never saw the wrong in them. The same can be said for Stalin and so many other horrible people. As I said before, Anakin had just enough good in him to know what he was doing was 'bad'. For a time, when he thought he had lost everything, I'm sure he just abandoned himself to the evil. But when he found Luke it seemed to me that something must have been reborn inside him- a 'hope' for something better. In the movies, Luke comments on Vader's internal 'conflict'. And though Vader denies it- it is later proven to be true.

How is it proven? In actions. Not words. That is the third condition for redemption. You can't just SAY you 'feel bad' about what you did and hope to 'make it up some time'. You have to DO something to prove it. In Vader's case it was in the final Battle with the Emperor. He is already exhausted and wounded from his duel with Luke. He obviously knows (or believes) that he would be killed if he ever attempted to attack the Emperor. And yet he does so anyway to save his son. It is a selfless act. He decided that he would rather die than allow his son to be killed. And that's what happened.

And finally, in order to achieve redemption from crimes as horrible as those Vader committed, there can be no 'happily ever after'. At least not in a conventional sense. If Vader had lived through the duel with the Emperor, do you think the Rebels would have just 'forgiven' him? Allowed him to join their ranks? Pardoned him from all his crimes and allowed him to comfortably retire? No. At the very least he would have been tried for war crimes and most likely executed. The best Vader could have hoped for would be to head off on his own and live a life of isolation— or perhaps attempt to make up for his misdeeds by fighting his own war against the Empire and/or the Sith. But no matter what he did, he would have to live with the 'stain' of his deeds. Yeah. So I guess that means that in my book, the only true redemption from soul-scarring evil is through an honorable death while trying to undo what you have done.

If you look at all of the above conditions, you'll note that Anakin meets my criteria for Redemption. I know he doesn't in a lot of people's minds, but in mine he does.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

The Scope of Star Wars

The one thing that has always impressed me about the Star Wars setting is the sheer scale of it. This isn't just a couple warring planets, or even a couple groups of planets, or part of a 'quadrant' of a galaxy. This is an ENTIRE GALAXY, with a 'thousand thousand' worlds (at least discovered worlds). It is difficult for people with a 'planetary' mindset (like us Humans) to comprehend how big that is, though I think the movies do a great job of conveying it. The Death Star shows how 'titanic' a scale things can be in this universe, as do the seemingly endless variety of alien races shown. Even the canon 'history' of the Galaxy, stretching back THOUSANDS of years of spaceflight, gives the feeling of something almost unfathomably huge.

For a game master who runs Star Wars, this leaves the door open for just about anything you can conceive of. I've spoken before on how 'all inclusive' the setting is, but it bears reiterating, because I think it is one of the chief strengths of Star Wars. For example, in an adventure, you could have the Empire wipe out an entire world (as they did with Alderaan). This is a truly horrific act with a lot of dramatic repercussions for roleplay. But from a gaming perspective the destruction of one planet isn't going to upset the balance of the entire game. Its like having your cake and eating it too. All of the drama you want without entirely changing the face of the setting.

The same can be said for introducing a variety of different settings. You want an old-west world? No problem. An Imperial Rome world? No problem. Hell, I even had a world that was based on Transylvania (complete with a dark Force mad scientist and his genetic monster). And all of it works because there are so many 'nooks and crannies' in the Star Wars universe where such oddball settings could exist. In the Marvel Star Wars comics, for instance, they had a whole adventure taking place on a world very much like 'Barsoom' (mars) from the Edgar Rice Burroughs series. And you know what? It didn't even feel out of place.

I bring the issue of 'scope' up because of a couple things. First of all, I've heard some folks say that Star Wars (or any game based on a movie or book series) is too 'restrictive'. That everything is 'written' and characters would have to live in the shadows of the main storyline- ever in fear of upsetting the apple cart. This conception is just plain wrong. At least with the Star Wars setting. If you can't find room for your own stories in THIS setting, well.. then you have a really uncreative GM. If you're a stickler for Canon, perhaps there is some restriction- at least when it comes to developing ultra-powerful Force user types. But other than that? I don't see why there can't be room for a whole lot of 'big damn heroes' in a setting this size.

The second thing I've seen in some GMs is a failure to grasp the scope of the setting, namely when it comes to NPCs and the impact of player actions. While I am a huge fan of allowing players' actions to shape the course of the Galaxy, I think that some GMs forget that there are a LOT of other folks out there who may be obstacles to player's plans. Nobody in the Star Wars universe acts with impunity. Even the Emperor, as powerful as he is, has to constantly scheme and plot to keep what power he’d gained. You also never see him trying to single-handedly hunt down the Rebel alliance himself. Why? Because it is dangerous. Even to a person as powerful as him. I've seen it before, particularly in online RPGs (MUSHes specifically), that a powerful character might get to feeling too big for his (or her) britches. To this I point out that even a high-powered sith lord can be taken down by a horde of lower-power grunts. If you make use of the combined action rules (something I consider a CORE system in D6), this is very true.

For instance, a Sith appears in the midst of a New Republic Controlled Coruscant. He takes hostages and begins making demands. The person playing the Sith thinks, because he's uber powerful, that only HEROIC characters could possibly stand against him. Thus, he prepares for an assault by Jedi or the like. Meanwhile, Coruscant has a huge military and police presence- including elite teams of anti-terrorist commandos and snipers. They could mobilize this group against the Sith. Even though individually they aren't as powerful- and many may be lost trying to take down the Sith, an anti-terrorist team would pose a real threat. This is something that I feel a GM should keep in mind. It is a bit of a balancing act- making sure players feel they are 'powerful', but they should do so with some common sense and discretion, otherwise, the setting devolves into a 'superhero/supervillain' type setup- which is great for a superhero RPG, but... not for Star Wars (in my opinion).

Anyway, I know that this post is rambling all over the place, so I’ll try to wrap things up. The Scope of Star Wars is what really makes it unique as an RPG setting. To my knowledge, there is no other mainstream setting as large as this (with the possible exception of Traveller or maybe Warhammer 40k- but even there, I don’t think the civilization spans the entire galaxy). Even if you DO include all the expanded universe crap in there (and a lot of it IS crap), you should still have plenty enough room to do whatever the hell you want as a GM- or a player (just so long as you realize there are a lot of other folks trying to do what THEY want, too).